Hiring Rob Wyman was bad public process

October 4, 2010

By Staff

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City leaders made a solid choice by hiring Rob Wyman as city manager, but the monthslong process raised troublesome questions.

Just minutes after firing former City Manager John Starbard in January, the City Council appointed Wyman, a former Newcastle community development director, to serve as the interim city manager.

The decision immediately raised questions.

Councilman Bill Erxleben said he, in the weeks before he was sworn in, had talked to Wyman about serving as the interim.

Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, said the council did not violate public meeting laws with the January decision. But Nixon, a former GOP state legislator, said the council breached the spirit of the law by discussing the matter in private.

The circumstances cast a dark cloud over the search for a permanent city manager.

In fact, the entire city manager search resembled a $20,000 dog-and-pony show designed to give residents a false impression about whether the council was looking for a city manager.

In the end, after leaders interviewed Wyman and three other finalists, the council left the distinct impression that council members intended to hire Wyman from the day they hired him as the interim.

Councilman Rich Crispo added to the negative perception when he said — at a public meeting, mind you — that he had supported Wyman “since the beginning.”

Make no mistake, Wyman had a leg up on the other finalists. His eight months as the interim manager provided him with a huge advantage.

Don’t get us wrong — Wyman is by no means a poor candidate. He has worked tirelessly to trim the budget at the direction of the council. He has been responsive to the needs of the community, and attended neighborhood meetings and community events. He works well with city employees and has maintained enthusiasm for the job.

What he lacks in experience he makes up for in character and work ethic. He is sure to be successful as the city manager.

The problem is the hiring process. The council, more than its predecessors, has promised openness and transparency — and failed. The council has betrayed the public’s trust, and members should be careful not to do so again.

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2 Responses to “Hiring Rob Wyman was bad public process”

  1. Peggy Price on October 7th, 2010 2:59 pm

    A company who puts out city manager candidates has an economic incentive to reserve the best candidates for larger cities that can pay more. They want to be sure that good clients get high-quality candidates so they will use the same search company again. The smaller cities, such as Newcastle, are likely to get the left-overs–candidates that are not of high enough quality to put in front of larger cities.

    The vetting of the candidates is a somewhat private process, because a lot of dirt tends to turn up. For instance, a candidate might be applying from a mental hospital, another might have moved around a lot because he was really bad at a vital part of his job, or he might have had a run-in with the law. Such findings are generally not disseminated to the public because, if they were, the City would alienate potential future candidates and possibly get sued for libel.

    It is difficult to “watchdog” the City Council’s process under such conditions. Unfortunately, the lack of negative findings disseminated by the City Council might be perceived as bias or no negative findings. If you have a way of illuminating the entire process without “telling on” the candidates publically, more power to you. Or maybe the troublesome attributes should be public knowledge, as they would be in a small town where everybody knew everybody else.

  2. Gary Adams on October 13th, 2010 11:15 am

    Citizens are, rightfully so, suspicious of decisions that are made in the back room. Regardless of Rob’s qualifications, this process demonstrates the problem. It would be naive to believe that the Councilmembers that had “interviewed” Rob even before they were sworn in didn’t already intend to elevate him to the permanent position. Of course they did. And, when you so publicly declare how you’re going to be so much more open than the previous Council the bar is raised even higher. They didn’t pass the smell test on this one. Shame on them for raising expectations. This is business as usual. I trust that Rob will remember that he works for the citizens of Newcastle and not for the Councilmembers that selected him. And I trust that the Newcastle News will take a more active role in being the “watch dog” for the citizens. Discussion of your concerns in an opinion piece before the selection might have prompted more engagement by citizens. I’m hoping you’ll be proactive in watching for zoning changes that benefit Councilmembers, rules changes that benefit developers that might be contributors to campaigns, decisions that benefit a few vs. the many. And I applaud you for at least raising this issue. Let’s hope the Council reads it and takes it to heart.

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