Archived Story

County hiring search firm, interim leader

Published 10:26am Monday, January 11, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – Seven Cass County commissioners decided Saturday morning to spend up to $30,000 to hire a recruitment firm to assist with the search for Terry L. Proctor’s successor and to hire an external interim administrator-controller.

New Chairman Robert Ziliak, R-Milton Township, Jan. 7 appointed a 10-member committee from the 15-member board chaired by Commissioner David Taylor, D-Edwardsburg, and backed up by Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis.

Also taking part in the special Jan. 9 meeting were: committee members Charlie Arnold, R-Cassopolis; Carl Higley Sr., R-Edwardsburg; and E. Clark Cobb, D-Dowagiac; Commissioner Dixie Ann File, R-Cassopolis; Sheriff Joe Underwood; Clerk-Register Barb Runyon; and Proctor, whose last day with the county after 20 years will be March 12.

Due to the size of the committee, meetings will be posted and open to the public, so “everyone in the county will have input,” Taylor said.

Two commissioners, Higley and Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township, participated in the 1989 search process which brought Proctor from Seekonk, Mass., to succeed Jefferson Township Supervisor Jeffrey A. Carmen.

Taylor consulted several potential recruitment firms from as near as Lansing to as far away as Illinois and Dallas to determine a price range of $15,500 to $20,800, plus travel.
The full board will be asked at its next meeting Jan. 21 to approve a budget of up to $30,000 for the recruitment committee.

Taylor said the 27-page Recruitment Guidelines for Selecting a Local Government Administrator compiled by the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), advises using a recruitment firm “unless you are financially under extreme duress.”

Taylor indicated he would also contact civil counsel Douglas L. Callander of Kalamazoo, the Michigan Association of Counties (MAC) and administrators such as Douglas Cultra in Van Buren County, Bill Wolf in Berrien County and Judy West-Wing in St. Joseph County for their input.

“Administrator Proctor has left us in great shape,” Taylor said. “We have about $20 million in various reserves and assets to protect. We compare ourselves to rural Barry County. It has about $2 million in free reserves and assets. I don’t think it would be wise to try this on our own.”

Using a recruitment firm last time “was a great help,” Higley assured Cobb. “If we get 20 or 30 applicants, they’ll go through these and do a much better job than we could ever do at seeing which ones qualify for what our needs are.”

Ziliak asked whether the county might save the $30,000 for a search firm by initially relying on advertising in professional publications.

“The danger of that, as laid out (by the ICMA) is your timeline will slip,” Taylor said. “(Search firms) also place ads, not only with (MAC), but with the National Association of Counties. I prefer we not do that.”

“I agree with Dave,” the sheriff said. “We’ve got a certain amount of expertise here, but you’re talking about one of the most important positions in the county. Doing that halfheartedly and not utilizing a professional firm for the dollars that costs could be doing ourselves and the county a disservice. We’ll get what we pay for. They’ll do that background work and put together a nice package. Time is important and it’s important to do it right.”

Ziliak seconded Higley’s motion to retain a professional recruitment firm.
Since the search timeline anticipates as much as 10 weeks, “I believe we will need an interim administrator/controller,” Taylor said. “Or can we wing it?”

Potential in-house possibilities discussed were accountant Becky Moore and Information Systems Director Kerry Collins, who previously spelled Proctor for a month.

“That was a fixed time, 30 days ahead. Right now, we can’t see where we’re going with precision,” Taylor said, plus Collins’ plate is pretty full with the demands of his multi-faceted office.

“He is extremely busy performing that role. That’s my concern,” Underwood commented. Runyon agreed.
Moore’s Dowagiac accounting firm contracts for nine hours a week – 9 a.m. to noon, Tuesday-Thursday – to perform financial duties for which the county once employed a fulltime 40-hour director.
“I recommend you consider an interim appointment very carefully,” Proctor said. “This county runs extremely skinny. The budgeting process (which begins in February) involves critical skills. That person has got to have credibility on behalf of the board with elected officials and department heads. Last time you went through this, 21 and 22 years ago, it was an absolute mess when I stepped in here on Jan. 1, 1990, because the budget process was ‘screwed up,’ to quote Carl Higley.
“You’ve already thrown out two names. If you’re serious about talking about individuals in the organization, you ought to start having conversations with them to see if there’s any interest whatsoever in performing that role. You can’t just talk about them in a public meeting.
“If you want an interim administrator from within the organization, you need to follow a certain process to accomplish that. If you want an interim administrator from outside the organization, you go about it in a different way. (Callander) is familiar with interim administrators in other communities in Michigan. You might want to talk to MAC about who’s good at filling interim administrator roles. As I leave here and make this change, I may well become an interim administrator in other communities because of my skills and background and knowledge.
“You have to realize the seriousness of what we’re talking about. It might not be for one month, it may be three months. It may be for your entire budget process, so please, go with caution and care as you move forward.”
Runyon advocated an external interim administrator.
“I might be wrong, but I think this process is going to take a lot longer than you guys think. I was on our church search committee for an associate pastor. I was shocked at how long that took. We thought it would take four months. It took more like seven months,” the county clerk said.
The committee’s next meeting will follow the county board’s Jan. 21 session.

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