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Granite Shoals city manager search process still undecided

Granite Shoals City Council on Oct. 11, 2022

Granite Shoals Mayor Aaron Garcia (left) confers with Councilor Samantha Ortis on the search for a permanent city manager during a council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11. Garcia originally proposed to forgo the use of a professional recruitment firm, but several councilors, including Steve Hougen (right), wanted more time to consider the hiring process. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Granite Shoals City Council was once again undecided on the hiring process for a new city manager during its regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11. After two separate motions to hire one of three recruiting firms failed, council members requested more time to look over bids before the next meeting on Oct. 25.

The city manager job has been vacant since June 14, when Jeff Looney was fired. The council appointed then-Assistant City Manager Peggy Smith as interim city manager on June 23.  

The request for more time came after newly sworn-in Mayor Aaron Garcia proposed the city not hire a professional recruiter. He suggested a two-week public feedback period so residents and city staff could submit their thoughts, recommendations, concerns, and the desired qualities that they’d like to see in a city manager.

The council and city department heads would then interview people who have already applied, potentially bringing in advisors from neighboring cities to aid in the process.

Before making his suggestion, the mayor presented bids from three search firms he has contacted. He was instructed at the Sept. 27 council meeting to gather information on firms. 

Strategic Government Resources proposed a contract of about $27,000 to be fulfilled within 15 weeks. Government Professional Solutions proposed a $21,000 contract within a 14-week time period. Baker Tilly Public Sector Executive Recruitment offered to fulfill its contract within 13 weeks for $26,000. Each firm has similar guarantees and protections in place for their respective proposals, Garcia said.

The mayor then proposed not hiring a firm at all and instead review already submitted applications, including one from Smith.

“Time is of the essence. This is a costly endeavor,” Garcia said. “We need to immediately come together and unify as a council and work diligently to get the city moving in the right direction.”

Garcia’s proposal was immediately countered by Councilor Phil Ort, who argued a recruitment firm would be the best option.

“I believe in the interest of the city that we should do our due diligence and search far and wide for the most valuable and trustworthy and qualified person to run our city,” Ort said. “To rush this process is a fool’s errand. We need to make sure that the city is in the best hands, and that can’t be done in such a quick timeframe.”

Councilor Samantha Ortis pointed out that Ort had changed his tune, asking him to confirm that he was originally opposed to the use of a recruitment firm. He said that was true and that he changed his mind after visiting with firms at a Texas Municipal League conference.

Ortis voiced frustration with the process and the discussion.

“We are not moving forward; we are moving backward at this point,” she said. “It is important that we get some permanent people in these positions.”

Ortis was referring to more than the city’s lack of a permanent city manager. Granite Shoals also does not have a permanent city secretary, city finance director, Place 2 councilor, or mayor pro tem. Several Public Works jobs are also open.

“I’m not saying that we rush it. I’m not saying that we don’t use our heads and do our due diligence,” Ortis explained. “I’m just saying that it is important that we get something done now so we can move forward as a city.”

Two different motions to hire a search firm were voted on and failed.

Ortis proposed the use of Government Professional Solutions. Ortis and Garcia voted in favor of that firm, while Ort, Hougen, Muños, and McCoy voted against.

Ort made a motion to hire Strategic Government Resources, which he described as a larger firm with more resources than Government Professional Solutions. That vote failed in a tie with Hougen, Muños, and Ort in favor and Ortis, Garcia, and McCoy against.

McCoy then asked for more time to review the proposals and list the job opening on the Texas Municipal League website. The council agreed and asked Garcia to send the three proposals to each council member for review.

The Granite Shoals City Council will discuss its findings and possibly take action on the city manager position during its next regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 25, at City Hall, 2221 N. Phillips Ranch Road.

dakota@thepicayune.com