GovHR to Take Control of City Manager Search

Vergil Demery

Oberlin City Council agreed last week to hire GovHR USA to assist in its search for a permanent city manager. GovHR, a corporate firm based in Northbrook, IL, was chosen over three other applicants to help vet candidates for the position.

City Council Member Kelley Singleton cited GovHR’s experience in college towns, specifically Williamstown, MA, and the number of women it employs as reasons for choosing the company. The consulting firm has assisted with similar searches in cities across 22 states. For example, in November of last year GovHR facilitated the hiring of a replacement city manager in Ferguson, MO, after protests and government intervention following the police shooting of Michael Brown.

City Council members have also praised the women in charge of GovHR, Presidents Heidi Voorhees and Joellen Earl, whose personal experiences in local government and city planning impacted the decision to hire their firm. GovHR is certified as a Female Business Enterprise in Illinois, where its headquarters office is located.

GovHR issued its 11-page proposal to Oberlin on Jan. 15, 2016. In the proposal, GovHR detailed its understanding of the project Oberlin requires; the strategy and philosophy they would use for the project; their previous successful placements, references and minority participation plan; a summary of costs; and a multi-phase plan of action.

“I love how they tailored their response, recognizing that Oberlin is a college town,” Council member Bryan Burgess said.

As the top hired official in town, Oberlin’s city manager is responsible for carrying out the policies drawn up by the City Council, as well as working with the other appointed officials — the law director, finance director and city clerk — to keep the government running smoothly.

Singleton said that GovHR’s success in Williamstown, MA, where it helped fill a town manager position last summer, demonstrates the firm’s qualifications for working in a college town like Oberlin.

“[GovHR] seems out-of-the-box ready,” Singleton said, adding that the other companies didn’t appear to be as confident or prepared, nor did they have GovHR’s impressive track record.

Burgess said that most communities expect a city manager to basically run the community.

“That’s not how Oberlin works,” Burgess said. “The College is like a second community.”

GovHR will have to accommodate Oberlin’s particular needs by finding a candidate who can manage the complex relationships between the city, the College and the non-profit retirement community Kendal at Oberlin.
Though GovHR will be reviewing applications and compiling a shortlist of potential candidates, many Oberlin residents still want a say when the time comes to decide on a new city manager.

According to an article in The Oberlin News Tribune, the Oberlin Business Partnership wants public meetings held in the form of question-andanswer sessions with the top candidates GovHR chooses for city manager. OBP is also pushing for public education on the responsibilities of a city manager and wants community members and local businesses to have the opportunity to interview the finalists.

Council Vice President Linda Slocum and City Council members Bryan Burgess and Kelley Singleton served on the committee to screen 11 companies through phone interviews. The city initially dismissed firms that were unable to work within their $30,000 budget. From there, the city winnowed the field to four contenders, and GovHR was the final choice.

According to Burgess, this decision was unanimous. Committee members were asked to choose their top two companies, and GovHR was everyone’s first choice.

The firm’s assistance comes at a projected cost of $21,500, well within the city’s budget, though the estimate does not include travel and accommodations for the candidates being interviewed.

While GovHR has been approved as the firm Oberlin will hire, no contract has been signed yet, and there are currently no candidates being considered for interviews.

GovHR is unavailable for comment until specific terms have been outlined in a contract. The City Council plans to meet with the firm shortly to discuss what they are looking for in a new city manager.