Cleveland preparing for city manager search

Cleveland City Councilman Richard Banks

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The Cleveland City Council is taking preliminary steps in its search for a new city manager to replace Janice Casteel, who is retiring May 31 after 42 years with the city.

Casteel announced her retirement in December. She has been city manager for eight years, and served for several years before that as Cleveland's top financial officer.

The last couple of years have been marked by turmoil and scandal in the city's police department, including the retirements of two chiefs in adultery scandals, the firings of several other officers and the indictment of one officer on arson charges. Last year the city hired a consultant to help fix the department and some City Council members suggested Casteel needed to be replaced.

In a recent meeting, Municipal Technical Advisory Service consultant Margaret Norris reviewed search scenario options with city leaders, explaining how the agency could assist with tasks such as updating the city manager job description, advertising and accepting applications, facilitating interviews and providing city manager employment data.

"The one thing we will not do is give you a recommendation on who to hire," Norris said.

Norris said the first thing the City Council needs to determine is how it wants to conduct the search process, whether internally, through MTAS or another consultant. From a financial perspective, MTAS provides services for free, while a headhunter search will likely cost about $30,000, she said.

Councilman Richard Banks expressed interest in possibly pursuing simultaneous searches by MTAS and a recruitment firm, stating search costs "may be money well spent because they are reaching out to different areas and different people."

Norris recommended against such an arrangement, citing a duplication of services and effort. She also voiced concern about whether a private recruitment firm would be willing to agree to a parallel search process.

She also addressed the importance of establishing the desired search area size. Limiting the search area to Tennessee has the advantage of somewhat reducing the new city manager's learning curve, because the applicant should be familiar with state laws. A national search offers a wider field of applicants but likely would take four to six months.

Banks cited the upcoming election cycle for the City Council as a possible factor in impacting the search process, suggesting it could take time away from task of selecting new city manager.

The search for the next city manager should not be sidelined by election campaigns, Councilman Bill Estes said.

"We have a job to do, and we need to do it," he said. "Our job is to find a city manager and to start that process now."

Council members asked Norris to provide sample city manager salaries, job descriptions and employment advertisements for municipalities of similar size to Cleveland.

The Cleveland City Council is expected to review the matter further during a daylong strategic planning session Jan. 25.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.