Scot Wrighton was “officially” approved as Decatur’s new city manager during Monday evening’s city council meeting. Wrighton is presently the city manager in Streator, Illinois, a community much smaller than Decatur but with a lot of similarities. I didn’t have an opportunity (because of our press deadline) to talk with Wrighton before last week’s edition went to press, but, a few hours after the Wednesday news conference, Wrighton and Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe, came to my office and we talked for about an hour about his qualifications, why he applied for the Decatur position and how he will work with the mayor and city council in moving the community in a positive direction.
I discussed the following day, during my regular appearance on the “City Hall Insider” hour on WSOY’s Byers & Co., some of the impressions I received from my meeting him for the first time and talking about his experience. There is no question, at least in my mind, that Wrighton is a good fit for Decatur and he brings a solid range of experience that will help us growth.
• SCOT WRIGHTON’S salary of $185,000 per year, plus other perks and benefits, certainly seems in the range of what city managers are paid in communities this size. Approval of the agreement at Monday night’s meeting was 6-0 with Councilman Bill Faber not being present when the vote was taken. Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said, in order to avoid any confusion at Monday night’s meeting, that council’s vote in closed session was “unanimous”.
I applaud the mayor and city council for staying united in not divulging any information about where the process was in hiring a new city manager, or the names of the applicants. I did not hear one peep from anyone on the council, or outside the council, regarding the status of the city manager hiring process until the announcement was made that Scot Wrighton was the choice. Not only did Wrighton talk with the mayor and council members collectively, but he also talked with them individually to answer whatever questions they had and/or personal feelings they wanted to express about his views of the position. This “city manager hiring” process was handled in a very professional way by the mayor and council and should be a pattern for future councils when the day comes that another city manager is hired.
• ALTHOUGH I was certainly impressed with Wrighton’s skills and experience, in my first meeting with him, something he said in the early part of our conversation, when the subject was about “transparency” in the city manager selection process caught my attention, because it reinforced the message I’ve been advocating every time the process to hire a new city manager comes up. Wrighton told me that, if his name was going to be known during the council’s process to name a new city manager – – he would not have applied for the job.
I have repeatedly written, both from my experience as an editor, and even more importantly as a public official intimately acquainted with the hiring process, that we lose some of the best potential candidates if their names are going to be made public during the search. Some of the best simply won’t apply. Many are city managers in other communities and know that, if word got out, that they were looking to move up to a similar position in another community, their credibility would suffer greatly as the public would see them as someone who wants to leave the community he, or she, presently serves. I found that especially true in the city council’s choice of Wrighton for the new city manager — the council felt he was the best choice of all who applied for the job. So, the council’s view of the best candidate for the job would not even have been an applicant had there been “total transparency” in the process. He would not have applied!
I don’t know the names of the other candidates, but several of them probably would not have applied if their names were going to be made public — making the pool of highly qualified applicants much smaller. After all, only one would be hired, which meant the rest would be staying at their present positions facing the distrust of many people they serve knowing they applied for another job elsewhere.
• PUBLIC INPUT? This city council asked for input from the public in the beginning stages of this search and there was a place to submit suggestions. So, the public was not left out of the process. However, any new city manager will be working for the mayor and city council, and, since he works for them, they are the ones who should make the ultimate decision on which person to select. The public can’t fire the city manager, but the voters can fire the mayor and several city council members during the next election if they don’t like the job they are doing.
• BEST WISHES to City Manager Scot Wrighton and the Decatur Mayor and City Council in working together to move Decatur in the right direction.