Originally Published: August 20, 2016 6:01 a.m.
PRESCOTT – After two days of interviews, tours, and roundtable discussions, the field of finalists for the Prescott City Manager position is now down to the top applicant.
As of Friday afternoon, however, city officials had not released the name of that person, pending the conclusion of contract negotiations.
“I’ve been advised by the attorney that we cannot release the name until the contract negotiations are complete,” Mayor Harry Oberg said Friday afternoon.
Council members apparently came to a consensus agreement during their Friday morning closed-door executive session, and then made it official in a public session, with a motion instructing Human Resources Director Mary Jacobsen to negotiate a contract with the top choice. No name was mentioned at that time.
All of the discussion occurred in the morning meeting, and the council canceled its Friday afternoon executive session and public session.
“When it got down to it, it was two of the four – the top two,” Oberg said of the council’s deliberations. “There seemed to be a strong consensus for one individual.”
Prescott's City Attorney Jon Paladini has maintained that the council could legally come to a consensus in executive session, and then instruct city staff to follow that consensus with an official motion in public session.
“The council can give direction in executive session,” Paladini said Tuesday, Aug. 16, noting that council members regularly do so during discussions about real estate transactions and settlement of lawsuits.
“In my view, it’s no final decision; it’s a direction to the HR director to negotiate a deal,” Paladini said of the consensus on a top city manager choice.
The Arizona Open Meeting Law prohibits a public body from taking a “legal action” in executive session, and defines legal action as “any collective decision, commitment or promise made by a public body …”
Although the original council meeting agendas for the interviews included no public portions, the city amended the Friday agendas mid-week to include public sessions for council direction on “possible decision to provide direction to the human resources director regarding appointment of city manager.”
Paladini said the name of the council’s top city manager choice does not become public until the contract negotiations are complete, after which the council would approve the contract in a public meeting.
City Clerk Dana DeLong said Friday that she expected to post an agenda early Saturday morning, Aug. 20, for a 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 22 special council meeting. That agenda will include the name of the council’s top choice, DeLong said.
Prior to the Friday executive session, the four finalists participated in a packed two days of tours, panel discussions, and interviews.
The city’s itinerary notes that the finalists took part in a meet-and-greet breakfast Thursday morning, Aug. 18, at the Hassayampa Inn. Oberg said the event was by invitation only, and included a number of members of the public.
That was followed by tours of the community by Deputy City Manager Alison Zelms and Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes, who led two of the finalists at a time on the tours.
The finalists also met two at a time with city department heads. The City Council then interviewed finalists Jeff Cantrell and Gary Edwards on Thursday afternoon, and finalists Michael Lamar and Bill Stephens on Friday morning.
Oberg said the council chose not to include a public component in the interviews and the meet-and-greet because, “Making sure we have the right person is the responsibility of the council.”
The interviews culminated a months-long recruitment process for a city manager to replace current manager Craig McConnell, who announced his resignation in May. The finalists were chosen from an original field of 58 applicants.