As Danville begins its fifth month without a permanent city manager, the City Commission is back to reconsidering the use of an executive search firm.
The commission heard a presentation Tuesday on a new benchmarking service provided by the Kentucky League of Cities and decided to compare the costs of an in-house search with the cost of contracting with several search firms that made their pitches in August.
Earlier this month, the commission appeared to be going forward with plans to form a committee of seven residents and two commissioners that would rank applicants for city manager. The commission would then deliberate on the top seven applications decided by the committee.
When a budget presented Tuesday put the cost of an in-house search at $14,674, Mayor Bernie Hunstad and Commissioners Gail Louis and Ryan Montgomery all indicated the cost was too close to that of hiring a headhunter.
Hunstad, who favored hiring a search firm when the issue was debated previously, called the projection “sobering.” He said he believed the cost of conducting the search primarily with city staff and resources versus hiring a firm would essentially be a wash, but he thinks the hidden expense of doing so much of the work in-house would drive the cost higher.
One of the major costs will be newspaper advertising, with paid print and online ads for the Courier-Journal of Louisville and Herald-Leader of Lexington totaling more than $6,000. Commissioners J.H. Atkins and Ryan Montgomery questioned if the cost could be significantly reduced or at least dispersed gradually based on response to free and less costly online databases.
Of the three firms that submitted proposals in August, Mercer Group of Atlanta had a base cost of $14,000, including a $2,500 discount, plus a maximum out-of-pocket cost for items including consultant travel at $5,500. Advertising, which the proposal said could be as high as $2,500 for a single ad, was not included.
Slavin Management Consultants of Norcross, Ga., listed a base maximum cost of $13,985, with out-of-pocket expenses capped at $7,691, which is 55 percent of the base fee. The total maximum cost for the project was quoted at $21,676.
The Louisville-based Angel Group would bill at a rate of $175 per hour for search services, not to exceed 25 percent of the salary offered to the chosen candidate, and between 15 and 25 percent of the salary. All out-of-pocket expenses, including advertising and staff travel, would be charged to the city. The projection for the total maximum cost would be about $20,000.
Atkins expressed frustration at the lack of progress in finding the next city manager and the possibility of abandoning a process he championed that would be shaped primarily by community members. He attempted to make a motion stating that the commission would not reconsider using a search firm, but the motion failed 3-2, with Hunstad, Louis and Montgomery voting "no," and Commissioner Kevin Caudill joining Atkins in voting "yes."
Hunstad said there could still be an oversight role for a committee if a search firm was hired.
A special meeting will be held at 4:30 p.m. Monday before the regular City Commission meeting, to compare the two options.
The commission did vote 4-1 in favor of using the KLC benchmarking process, which was included in the proposed budget at a cost of $3,050.
KLC recently began offering the service, which develops a benchmark for the kinds of motivations, behaviors and competencies required for a position based on interviews with a group of "subject matter experts" who are knowledgeable about the job and interact with the person in the job on a regular basis. The so-called benchmark would be used to guide the evaluation of applicants and possibly develop an advertisement.
Once a group of finalists has been established, the candidates would then be given a talent assessment, which costs $350 per assessment, to compare the applicant's strengths with the benchmark of what the job requires. The cost for the initial research and preparation of a benchmark would be $2,000.
KLC has yet to use the system to aid a city in its search for a top position, but Tad Long, a KLC employee certified in the process this summer, said the methodology is transferable to any kind of search and could be used with either an internal search process or a search firm. KLC will partner with Lisk Associates, a Lexington-based hiring consultant.
Another issue addressed Tuesday was the role Interim City Manager Ron Scott, who has stated his intention to apply for the job, will play in the search process. Although Scott took part in developing the budget for the search, Hunstad said Scott would not be involved once the search process began.
Scott was hired Aug. 22, a week after John W.D. Bowling resigned as interim city manager citing a threat made by a city employee.
Former City Manager Paul Stansbury was dismissed May 9 but was not officially replaced by Bowling until June 1.