A more open manager search, but timing off

City Manager John Shirey, second from right, listens to a presentation about a tent city for the homeless in Seattle last month. He’s stepping down in November.
City Manager John Shirey, second from right, listens to a presentation about a tent city for the homeless in Seattle last month. He’s stepping down in November. lsterling@sacbee.com

On the bright side, the Sacramento City Council is being far more open in selecting a new city manager than the last time.

It held a retreat in public Thursday to go over its ideal candidate. Council members plan meetings in their districts to hear from constituents. An online survey will be available to residents starting Tuesday.

Unfortunately, council members remain on a hiring schedule that makes little sense, though there are a few encouraging signs of flexibility to take the election into account.

The plan is to have a new manager in place by the time John Shirey’s contract runs out Nov. 18. But there will definitely be a new mayor, since Kevin Johnson isn’t seeking re-election. And while unlikely, the three council incumbents facing opposition could lose. So the new manager could have as many as four new bosses, of nine total, when the new council takes office in December.

It’s far more responsible to appoint an interim manager, or ask Shirey to stay on for a few weeks, and have the new mayor and council make the hire early next year.

On the current timeline, public input would continue through mid-April, the job description would go out by early May and applications would be accepted until late June. Applicants would be screened and interviewed in July and August. Final interviews and the offer to the top choice would be in early September, a contract would be signed by mid-September and the new manager would start in late October or early November.

One option that seems logical is to tweak the schedule based on the June 7 results. If there’s going to be substantial turnover, the council could pull back and let the replacements decide. And if former Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg defeats Councilwoman Angelique Ashby without a November runoff, the council should let him be involved in the selection.

Interviews with finalists should be held in public, if at all possible. That isn’t the plan; the city’s search firm is recommending against it, saying that good candidates won’t apply if the process isn’t confidential.

Even with that flaw, the search is more transparent. Council members apparently learned lessons from 2011, when the search was conducted almost entirely in private and the mayor voted against hiring Shirey.

Sacramento County supervisors should take a cue in their search for a new county CEO. Tuesday, they’re scheduled to hold a closed session, their first discussion of replacing Brad Hudson, who left in January. High on their agenda ought to be making the selection process as public as possible.

You’d think they would have learned their lesson, too, from their last hiring. In 2011, a closed-door process led to the selection of Hudson, then the city manager in Riverside. He wasn’t a good fit for this county. That might have become clear had supervisors spent more time listening to the public.

An open process will almost always produce better results. And the leaders who are hired will start out with a well of public support.