Council Needs Quicker Decision on City Manager

Editorial Board

The city manager search that has now stretched for nine months re­sembles an episode of Amy Poehler’s Parks and Recreation, except there’s no season finale in sight. Interim City Manager and Finance Director Sal Talarico has stepped up since former City Manager Eric Norenberg re­signed last December, but City Council seems at odds and unwilling to permanently appoint Talarico to the post.

In a meeting on Aug. 15, the council had its search narrowed to two candidates: Talarico, who has worked as the finance director for nearly 16 years, and Navy veteran Lowell Crow, who has two years of experience as a city administrator in Monmouth, IL. But the council failed to reach a supermajority, which requires five of the seven voting members to agree on a single candidate. Less than 24 hours after the vote, Crow dropped out of the race and Talarico’s prospects as manager remain up in the air.

“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,” Talarico said in the Sept. 2 Review article (“Stalemate Results in Extended City Manager Search”).

When Talarico was appointed in December, he told the Oberlin News-Tribune that he anticipated the search would take four to six months. But nearly a year and $40,000 in search fees later, Talarico is exactly where he was in January, and the council seems nowhere closer to concluding its hunt.

“City council needs to get over itself,” wrote Michael Sigg, former direc­tor of Oberlin Public Works, in a Tribune letter to the editor. “The most daunting problem facing a city manager in Oberlin would be dealing with a seemingly dysfunctional city council.”

Although Sigg’s words are certainly sharp, his criticism is not entirely off-base. Oberlin cannot afford to spend exorbitant amounts of money seeking more candidates when capable options have been cast aside due to the council’s discordance. While the Editorial Board does not endorse Talarico, he is certainly qualified for the position and ready and willing to take the job.

Oberlin uses a council-manager form of government with the city manager acting as the head of the administrative branch for the city. The main duties of the position are overseeing all hiring decisions, except for those appointed by the City Council, preparing the city budget, setting the agenda for council meetings and otherwise administering the city’s charter.

Talarico has succeeded in all of these areas so far, which is perhaps what led Council President Ron Rimbert and members Scott Broadwell, Kelley Singleton and Sharon Fairchild-Soucy to vouch for him at the meeting in mid-August. But with dissent from Sharon Pearson, Linda Slocum and Bryan Burgess, council was unable to move forward.

This is hardly the first time that a split council has stunted the govern­ing body’s effectiveness. In January 2015, four of the seven councilmem­bers — current members Burgess and Pearson and former members Kristen Peterson and Elizabeth Meadows — signed off on a letter that called for Norenberg’s resignation, citing issues with his management style. The letter was the focal point of drama for city government, as half of the council abstained from signing the request and Norenberg decided to stay until December of last year.

But as conflict continues, criticism over the indecision is mounting. Fairchild-Soucy condemned the council’s failure in an Aug. 22 letter to the editor published in the Oberlin News-Tribune, which highlighted the inability of the council to compromise between the majority and minor­ity factions (“Councilwoman frustrated over lack of hire”).

“I accept the resulting criticism, and I am disappointed that my voice and those of the majority were not sufficient to convince at least one of the minority to support acting city manager Sal Talarico,” Fairchild-Soucy wrote.

It is high time for council to prioritize the public’s voices instead of abiding by its internal conflict, which will require expediting the process for another candidate and — hopefully — prevent a high cost for the manager search.