Stalemate Results in Extended City Manager Search

An Oberlin City Council meeting that promised to conclude the nine-month search for a permanent city manager resulted in a stalemate Aug. 15. The process has dragged on since former City Manager Eric Norenberg stepped down last December, leaving Interim City Manager Sal Talarico to serve as both city manager and finance director.

“It’s not the ideal situation I would anticipate could be done on a permanent basis,” Talarico said. “It requires quite a bit more time on everybody’s part. I don’t think this is something that can be sustained over a long period of time. We’re already almost eight full months into it, and hopefully council can develop a process for continuing the search and address it quickly.”

At the Aug. 15 meeting, City Council mulled over two candidates for the position: Talarico and Lowell Crow, city manager in Monmouth, IL. But Oberlin’s seven councilmembers, who are responsible for electing the permanent replacement, were ultimately unable to reach a consensus. Council President Ron Rimbert said in order to select a candidate, the nominee must be voted in by a supermajority — meaning five of the seven members must agree.

“If I were the person they were looking for to fill that job, they would have selected me during the interview process,” Crow said.

Crow dropped out of the city manager race after not receiving the nomination, which now puts council in a precarious position. A consultant for Oberlin’s government will continue the national search, and the process will cost the city $40,000 in total.

City Councilmember Bryan Burgess said that without a permanent manager, Oberlin’s government is not advancing any of its long-term goals.

“There is some anger. There’s a lot of frustration and hurt feelings,” said Burgess, who endorsed Crow at the meeting. “I think what it came down to for me was that I wanted someone with a fresh perspective on the city. Someone who could come and be welcomed by everyone in the community and there wouldn’t be any preconceptions of the candidate.”

Fellow Councilmembers Sharon Pearson and Linda Slocum joined Burgess in his support for Crow, according to The Oberlin News-Tribune. Rimbert endorsed Talarico for the position with Scott Broadwell, Kelley Singleton and Sharon Fairchild-Soucy. The main point of contention was each candidate’s level of experience, according to multiple councilmembers.

Talarico’s experience in city government made him the go-to choice for the majority of councilmembers, but members such as Burgess said that council needs a fresh face.

“I think a lot of councilmembers preferred the known over the unknown,” Burgess added.

But Rimbert said he ultimately endorsed Talarico because of his extensive involvement in both city and state politics. He also voiced disagreement with Burgess over the current effectiveness of city government.

“I think Mr. Burgess is 100 percent incorrect,” Rimbert said. “[The city government] is working very, very well. Talarico’s finance department is very, very organized. … There were definitely differences from the standpoint that Mr. Talarico has got 17 years in municipal government in Ohio, particularly. Mr. Crow had two years, no experience in Ohio. That was a huge difference for me. Mr. Talarico knows the community; he knows the law of Ohio.”

The staunch divide over the city manager position is not a first for Oberlin’s government. Some councilmembers attempted to push Norenberg out of office in January 2015, but could not muster the necessary supermajority to fire him. Burgess and Rimbert fell on opposite sides of this debacle, too, when Burgess delivered a letter to Norenberg asking him to resign last year. Burgess, Pearson and former Councilmembers Elizabeth Meadows and Kristen Peterson were the four members to sign off on the letter.

Whether Talarico will continue pursuing a permanent position as city manager is still up in the air.

“I’ve indicated to council, at least a couple of the councilmembers, that if they’d like to include me in their decision process the next time around they’re more than welcome to,” Talarico said. “I haven’t decided whether I’ll participate if I’m required to in another whole set of the interviewing process. Bottom line: I haven’t made a decision yet.”