Archived Story

County expected to hire recruitment firm Feb. 25

Published 10:07am Friday, February 19, 2010

Dowagiac Daily News

CASSOPOLIS – After occasionally heated debate, the Administrator-Controller Recruitment Committee decided to meet again Thursday night beginning at 6.

Then, following a closed meeting department heads requested Monday evening, Cass County commissioners are expected to be prepared Feb. 25 to recommend retaining one of four “headhunter” search firms the full board authorized hiring in January.

Prompting acrimonious exchanges Thursday night was the perception that committee Chairman David Taylor, D-Edwardsburg, seemed to be short-circuiting the search process because of his preference for Road Commission Manager Louis Csokasy.

Taylor, however, clarified the committee voted Feb. 4 to “suspend” hiring an executive recruiting company.

“We’ve wasted two months now,” Commissioner Johnie Rodebush, D-Howard Township, fumed. “The search committee Bob appointed is doing the work you hire a search committee for. You’ve spun your wheels – and I’m blaming all of us – the committee’s too big. Jan. 21 the commission appropriated $30,000. Some of you have got the definite idea that Louie should be hired. We had 18 people for the Road Commission appointment. We interviewed them and got a pretty good person” in Csokasy.

“Like I looked Louie in the eye and told him the same thing,” Rodebush said, “We need a search firm and they’ll do the work we’ve wasted two months on.”
Taylor “wants Louie in here tomorrow,” Rodebush added.

“The entire commission voted for a search,” said Commissioner Minnie Warren, D-Pokagon Township, who felt the committee “ignored” that directive.
“This needs to come back to the entire board,” she said.

“I know spending up to $30,000 for this search seems like a lot of money,” commented Commissioner Gordon Bickel, R-Porter Township, “but is it? We have an overall 2010 budget exceeding $14 million. For the person who’d be the administrator to professionally run Cass County’ affairs, hopefully for several years, this is not much. The average time an administrator remains in a county is five years, I’m told. We all know we’re not average. We should not be in a big hurry to select an administrator. Let’s check the field. There are many out there throughout the United States, I’m sure. Our first applicant could be the right one, but who knows? Let’s take the time to find out. This should not be an overnight decision. Their credentials should be checked out carefully and what they have done in the past verified and what they have in mind for Cass County.

Also, one question I have in mind is what they have accomplished and how long they have been in their present positions. In other words, a complete background investigation. The welfare of Cass County and its employees is in our hands and we want to do the best for these employees and our taxpayers.”

“That is good comment, as is Johnie’s comment,” Taylor said, “but we will be criticized for going too slowly and too fast.”

The 10-member committee met for an hour prior to the regular commission meeting, then reconvened afterward.

“I think we should really come up with the name of a search firm – although I don’t think we’re ready to do that tonight,” Ziliak, R-Milton Township, said, which was borne out by Rodebush nominating one from Illinois and his motion dying for lack of support.
Commissioner Carl Higley Sr., R-Ontwa Township, indicated that Vice Chairman Ron Francis, R-Cassopolis, and a subcommittee of four other commissioners were to meet with elected officials Feb. 22 to incorporate their input into the process.

“If that meeting takes place,” Higley said, “by Thursday we should have that information back and meet with the full board” after the committee meets at 6.

“This is my understanding of what’s going on,” Commissioner Debbie Johnson, D-Niles, threw out.

“Five commissioners will meet with the officials about an interim director, whether they want to handle it or they want to hire somebody. Then, they were going to make a recommendation back to the full board and we were going to decide Thursday night at 7 o’clock which search firm we’re going to hire and make a decision about the interim.”
In the roll-call vote Taylor requested, Commissioner Bill Steele, D-Calvin Township, and Taylor were opposed.

Further roiling the water was Ziliak’s contention Monday’s meeting must also be open to the public, although the advisory subcommittee would lack any authority, so the meeting would need to be reported back to the full board for action.

“If there’s anything I’ve learned in the last week in this whole process,” Francis said, “is that elected officials and department heads desire to be involved, but they feel they can’t do it in the framework of a public meeting.”

“I will make a determination, my prerogative as chairman, that it will be a closed subcommittee meeting,” Taylor said.

In another determination, when Rodebush read the county’s 1992 mission statement and commissioners’ oath of office to support the U.S. Constitution and the Michigan constitution, Taylor ruled it wasn’t “germane to this committee – don’t interrupt me, Mr. Rodebush – it is definitely germane to our actions, and I think nobody does better public service than you do.”

Taylor began the meeting with a “history” of the “fits and starts we have been legitimately criticized for” in selecting a replacement for 20-year Administrator/Controller Terry Proctor, who resigned effective March 12.

“We collectively authorized the selection of an outside search firm” at their first meeting on Saturday morning, Jan. 9.

Seven commissioners recommended spending up to $30,000 to hire a recruitment firm to assist and to hire an external interim administrator-controller.

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 Jan. 21 approved a budget of up to $30,000 for the recruitment committee.
Feb. 4 Cass County’s search for its third administrator took a twist and caught commissioners off guard when Csokasy, who became a road commissioner when the panel expanded from three to five in 2008, then became manager about a year ago, expressed interest in the position.

At that same meeting, Taylor also mentioned an additional option of hiring Bill Baldridge of North Muskegon. Baldridge in 2008 served the dual role of interim administrator and search coordinator when Dowagiac hired City Manager Kevin Anderson to succeed Dale Martin.

“It appeared a majority – not everyone – but a majority of this committee favored retention of Louie without conducting an outside search or incurring that expense,” Taylor recalled. “Accordingly, we voted to suspend our outside search and interview Louie” Feb. 11.
Taylor continued, “Just prior to our interview of Louie we learned we customarily post positions before filling them; second, there was no job description for Terry; and third, we had not established a salary range” for the posting. “At our last meeting, to answer these problems, I appointed subcommittees” – job description, chaired by Ziliak; salary range for permanent position, chaired by Higley; and interim manager, chaired by Francis.

Those panels reported back Thursday evening.

“Please remember,” Taylor admonished, “it’s kind of a subtle thing, but by posting the job description and salary range, we’re getting the process on an internal inquiry, where we want people to reply to us, rather than an outside search firm.

“We are, at the same time – at least initially – avoiding a $20,000 cost. Nevertheless, we are proceeding inside rather than outside. We’re changing our minds, albeit at a considerable cost savings. We’re changing direction, but, thus far, I believe we’ve had good reason for doing so.

“As to an interim administrator, it is my opinion that we needed an experienced individual for a temporary position as soon as possible. My recommendation, which I expressed to you after speaking to him,” was Baldridge,” though, “”It is my current view that we will not find anyone better than Louie. Even though he’s coming from our own Road Commission, I’ve done a preliminary background check … he’s clean,” Taylor said.

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