Tacoma City Council members held an impressively thoughtful and candid conversation Tuesday night about which of the seven semifinalists for city manager they would make finalists.
One-by-one, council members offered their reasons for supporting or dismissing each candidate.
Candidate T.C. Broadnax is assistant city manager in San Antonio, where he’s learned to work with the local military base. That’s important to Mayor Marilyn Strickland.
Candidate Andrew Neiditz, currently Lakewood city manager, brings a wealth of knowledge about Pierce County and the cities within it. To Councilman Jake Fey, that gives him a leg up for the Tacoma job. To Councilman David Boe, that makes him good at managing in the suburbs, but maybe lacking in “urban” experience.
The discussion helped the public learn about the candidates and where each council member stood.
Now imagine the same conversation, but about Candidate C or Candidate G, with only council members holding the decoded list of names.
The public might as well have been shut out of the room.
That was the system announced earlier in the day Tuesday. Candidates had been promised secrecy, which Strickland later said was out of respect for their privacy and to avoid putting them in an awkward position with their current employers.
Under the subhead “Confidentiality”, the city’s job announcement said: “Candidate names will not be released without the candidates’ permission. However, it is expected that, after the City selects finalists, some form of public participation will be incorporated into the candidate evaluation process and the finalists’ names will be released.”
The real problem with the ad boils down to a single word – “after.” State open meeting law allows councils to discuss the qualifications of candidates behind closed doors, but they must discuss their choices in public. The law requires openness during the process, not after it.
Agencies often fear that making names public will reduce the pool of candidates. But when the list of 70 applicants has been whittled to seven semifinalists, when the position is as important as the city manager, when city council members are taking a vote, it’s time to be open.
Upon hearing of the proposed lettering gimmick, city hall reporter Lewis Kamb questioned its legality. By the time of the vote, the council had received permission from all but one semifinalist to use their names and dropped the scheme.
When it came time, council members named the candidates. They spoke frankly about both shortcomings and strengths. They ended up with a slate they consider strong.
Next time around, rather than a confidentiality promise, the council might consider a transparency requirement. Rather than going public “after the City selects finalists” they should advise candidates they will go public “as the City selects finalists.”
And they might consider one more edit. The ad also seeks a city manager who “will believe in transparency, openness and in keeping the elected officials and the staff fully informed.”
Beyond transparency with elected officials and staff, the council might set the same expectation for the public.
A TV BOOK FOR YOU?
Delivered with the Saturday or Sunday paper you’ll find a section with TV listings for the coming week called South Sound TV.
More than year ago, we stopped delivering the book with every Sunday newspaper. Market research showed that while some readers were intensely interested in a weekly guide so they could plan their viewing, many others readers never read it.
Rather than drop it altogether, we allow most of our readers the choice to keep receiving the TV book for 50 cents a week. Thousands of readers have opted in. (In outlying areas, where we contract with other newspapers for delivery, we are not able to offer the option, so every subscriber gets the TV book.)
For most of you, it’s been a year since you saw the weekly book. As we did last year, we’re inserting a copy into every paper today and offering readers another chance to opt-in. In addition to full-color 24-hour grids for every day of the week, South Sound TV includes program listings, a sports viewing planner, celebrity stories and a crossword puzzle – 32 pages in all.
If you’d like to receive South Sound TV every week, call 1-800-289-8711. We’ll continue to run a prime-time grid in the daily paper.
Karen Peterson: 253-597-8434