Rhetoric and reality: Picking a new City Administrator

During the recent campaign, we heard much from all of the candidates running for City Council and Mayor about the need for the city to do a better job of communicating with residents.  The election was held, and Mayor Gary Van Eyll was re-elected along with Greg Boe and Rick Ford being added to the Council.

The first big issue on the plate for the city following the election was the selection of a new city administrator.  The process was somewhat troubling from the start — as the city hired former City Administrator Dave Pokorney to lead the process up.

Pokorney narrowed the field down to five semi-finalists:  four outsiders and interim City Administrator Matt Podhradsky.  The five semi-finalists were revealed in a closed session of the City Council — with only their names and scant background given to the Chaska Herald.  Additionally, they announced to the Herald that a meet-and-greet would be held that Saturday (two days after the paper’s publication) — the Saturday before Thanksgiving.  No details were placed on the city’s website.  Even the Herald didn’t have anything about the meet-and-greet session until late on Friday.

Does this sound like a serious attempt at the “improved communication” we were promised?  Scheduling a session near a holiday with no proactive attempt by the city to communicate it to residents?  It’s not serious at all.  If I proposed communicating a major change at my company in such a manner, I would be laughed out of the building.  It wouldn’t be considered credible.

So turnout at the Saturday meet-and-greet session turned out to be “sparse” per the Herald’s account of the event.  What a shock!  To make matters worse, the Council followed up the session by perhaps violating Minnesota’s Open Meetings Act in a closed meeting where they narrowed the field down to two finalists — Podhradsky and Dayton City Administrator Samantha Orduno.

The Council then componded things by holding another little-publicized special meeting Monday night to ratify the selection of Podhradsky on a 4-1 vote — with the soon-to-be-departed Jay Rohe the dissenting vote.  Again, public presence and comment was lacking.

This isn’t meant to be a knock on Podhradsky, whose experience here makes him a worthy candidate.  I can’t honestly say which of the five would have been the best selection.  But there’s something that isn’t right about the process.

The selection of the new City Administrator is a key decision for the Council.  The Administrator is responsible for the day-to-day workings of Chaska’s government.  So, the Mayor and Council set up a process to pick a new Administrator that seemed uniquely intended to limit public opinion on the decision.  Sure, they may allow comments at the December 1 Council meeting.  But will that change anything?  It certainly hasn’t in the past.

Even if the Council is making the right decision, it needs to be aware of the process it is following.  Residents don’t approve of elected leaders who feel they know better and don’t need to listen to input.  It’s well past time for the Mayor and Council to start following through on their commitment to communicate with residents.

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