Board selects screening committee for new city administrator

City hall
City hall

City directors met Monday afternoon to set up a screening committee to review potential applicants for the position of city administrator.

The screening committee's job is to review applications to weed out candidates that were not qualified and present qualified candidates to the city board to vote on.

The position of city administrator became vacant on March 7 when the city board voted 4-3 to terminate the contract of Phillip Patterson.

At Monday's meeting, Director David Allen made a motion to appoint himself, former State Representative Jonathan Barnett and Arthur Hulbert, the president and CEO of the Siloam Springs Chamber of Commerce, to the screening committee, which was seconded by Director Betsy Blair.

Mayor Judy Nation opened the motion up for discussion. Director Reid Carroll said it would be good if there was not a director on the committee and that there should be more than three people on the committee.

Carroll also recommended asking members of John Brown University's human resources department for help. Carroll said Amy Fisher and Kim Hadley would be two people who would be suited for the task.

"They have expertise in hiring people such as the city administrator, where basically you're wanting to hire someone who is a leader of leaders," Carroll said. "I think it'd be good to have a tremendous resource with that."

Carroll also suggested bringing in Chris Blair, the chief administrative officer of the Siloam Springs Regional Hospital, to the committee.

Directors Mindy Hunt and Carol Smiley agreed with Carroll.

"I believe that we need a cross-section of our city," Smiley said. "I don't believe we need a board member on there that did the termination."

Smiley also recommended having the mayor appoint the committee members. Smiley also said she would like to see seven members, saying that is a good number for a cross-section of business leaders.

Director Lesa Rissler asked if someone could run through what the committee who hired former Patterson did. Nation said the committee was appointed by the mayor and was approved by the board, then they reviewed the applications and made recommendations back to the board.

Interim City Administrator Christina Petriches said this was correct. Petriches also said she believes they interviewed some of those individuals and whittled the pool down so the board could interview the few chosen.

Petriches said the current job description requires a master's degree or eight years of experience or both.

Smiley made an amendment to the motion that the mayor choose the committee, which should have at least seven members and no board members.

The amendment failed with a vote of 4-3 with Allen, Blair, Rissler and Director Ken Wiles voting against the amendment and Carroll, Hunt and Smiley voting for the amendment.

Smiley said she doesn't care how many members are on the committee, she just doesn't want to see a board member on there.

Hunt added that she would like to see at least five members of the committee. Allen said the city has two board members with human resources degrees and have been in charge of human resources departments with thousands of employees and that the city should take advantage of it.

Allen said that's why he put himself on there and that he had not heard that JBU has a human resources department that has worked on hiring city administrators.

"If their HR department worked on that, I think the point is that we are looking at a clean slate," Allen said. "That's exactly what the three names there are. They haven't been involved in the past in hiring someone."

Smiley said again that she doesn't believe the board should include a person who nominated the termination of the previous city administrator.

Allen asked what does it have to do with the matter and Smiley responded that it doesn't look good. Carroll said he was glad to have people on the board who do have human resource experience and that will be called upon to interview the final five.

Carroll also said it would do the board well to allow the community who has, in his opinion, a wealth of knowledge and passion to bring the final candidates.

Nation listed the committee members of the previous screening committee from 2014 which included Steve Beers, Kevin Harmon, Cathy Bolduc, Ron Harp, Brian Lamb, Karl Mounger and Dr. Scott Stinnett.

Allen said at the time Beers had recently won a position on the city board so there was technically a board member on the committee. None of the board members could remember when Beers came on the board, so the meeting recessed while City Clerk Renea Ellis researched the matter.

Ellis came back and told the board that Beers was elected during a special election in 2015. Beers was certified on Aug. 14, 2015 and was sworn in on Aug. 18, 2015 which means there would not have been a board member on the committee, Ellis said.

Blair recommended three other names: Kevin Williams, Randy Torres and James McGuirk. Blair even recommended McGuirk's wife Jan Simmons McGuirk.

Nation said she spoke to Mark Simmons, the president of Simmons Foods, and that he said that Simmons Foods would loan out someone from their human resources department if the board needed it.

Rissler made an amendment that they add Torres and Simmons' human resources representative. Allen commented that city board members have served on several city committees in the past, such as the broadband committee.

Smiley said she thinks it is highly unusual to have a board member who terminated the city administrator to be on the selection committee.

Allen called a point of order and said he did not terminate the administrator.

"I did not vote him off on my own and with superpowers snapped him off," Allen said. "That's just ridiculous to say that."

Hunt said there are a lot of questions surrounding the decision to terminate Patterson's contract and she thinks it would be a good time for any of the board members to step aside and let the citizens come in and decide who the board needs to appoint.

She then made an amendment to the amendment to amend the committee list to include Barnett, Hulbert and Torres but no city board member.

Following more discussion, Allen said he would step away and let Rissler sit on the screening committee since she also has human resources experience. The amendment to the amendment was voted down 4-3 with Allen, Blair, Rissler and Wiles voting no and Carroll, Hunt and Smiley voting yes.

Rissler was unsure about serving on the committee and called for a recess to discuss it with her husband. Following a brief recess Rissler came back and did agree to serve on the committee if the board chose so.

Since this was a special meeting where public comment was not allowed, Hunt made a motion to table this until the next board meeting to allow for public comment. The motion failed with vote of 4-3 with Allen, Blair, Rissler and Wiles voting no and Carroll, Hunt and Smiley voting yes.

An amendment to approve Barnett, Hulbert, Rissler, Torres and the Simmons representative was made. The amendment was approved with a vote of 4-3 with Allen, Blair, Rissler and Wiles voting yes and Carroll, Hunt and Smiley voting no.

At that point, Matt Feyerabend, who was in the audience, stood up and protested the vote saying the board is running amok. Allen called for a point of order. Feyerabend continued speaking.

"It is so clear what you're doing," Feyerabend said of Allen, Blair, Rissler and Wiles before leaving the meeting with two Siloam Springs police officers following him out.

Then the board voted to approve the motion to have Barnett, Hulbert, Rissler, Torres and the Simmons representative to serve on the committee with Allen, Blair, Rissler and Wiles voting yes and Carroll, Hunt and Smiley voting no.

Before the final vote, Smiley asked if anyone on the selection committee could nominate themselves. Nation said there is nothing that says they cannot.

After the final vote the board voted to adjourn.

Following the meeting, citizen Kathy Turner, the wife of former Siloam Springs mayor John Mark Turner, commented to the Herald-Leader.

"I thought that was very interesting that David Allen and Lesa Rissler tried to put themselves on this board and succeeded," Kathy Turner said. "This should have been made up of citizens to review this. They should have been involved in this process. You know, the citizens actually elected these directors to represent them, and they should have complete involvement in this process