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Pureval promises transparency in city manager search after concerns from council

Mark Heyne

Cincinnati Council voted Wednesday to approve $60,000 to hire a search firm that will facilitate the hiring of the next city manager. Some council members say the process for hiring the position needs to be more transparent moving forward.

The funds were part of an adjustment ordinance that comes up near the end of each fiscal year to move money around so that each department has enough to finish the fiscal year, which ends June 30.

The $60,000 needed in the Human Resources Department to complete the search firm contract was not listed in the ordinance summary that appears on the agenda; the chosen firm, D.C.-based Polihire, is not listed in any of the documents associated with the ordinance.

In committee on Monday, Council Member Liz Keating pointed out the city manager job posting has been published but says Council hadn't been informed a search firm was selected.

"Now it's tucked into a super long ordinance with a lot of stuff in it just kind of quietly being passed," Keating said Monday. "I'd like to know who this search firm is, why they were chosen, what the milestones are for dates of when we're gonna see finalists, when we're going to be making this decision."

Council Member Scotty Johnson said he shares some of the same concerns: "I didn't have a clue."

"How did we retain a search firm without a vote of Council?" asked Council Member Jeff Cramerding. The answer is that contracting authority rests with the city manager, so it doesn’t require council approval.

Mayor Aftab Pureval spent several minutes in Council on Wednesday outlining the process so far and what to expect next. He says the request for proposals was published February 2, and five search firms responded with a bid.

"The X factor for me was that Polihire has a track record of identifying diverse talent and placing them successfully," Pureval said. "Polihire is also Black owned and Black run, which I believe is notable given the racial equity priorities of this council."

Keating repeated her concerns in Council on Wednesday.

"Transparency is communication, and communication is not just to council, but it's to city of Cincinnati, because this is the most powerful position in the city," she said.

Pureval said he shares the commitment to transparency.

"Which is why we did a press release and several news media outlets reported on it," Pureval said. "So council didn't have to dig through the budget item, they just had to read the news."

"It would be nice if we get copied on those press releases," Keating replied. "We shouldn't have to read the news to have that kind of update."

WVXU confirmed with Pureval's office that a press release about Polihire's selection was planned but not sent. Pureval did tell two reporters during an interview on April 13;WVXU reported the selection that day, and Spectrum News reported a recruitment firm had been selected without naming Polihire.

"I did have questions about this allocation and I appreciate the conversations that we had," Cramerding told Pureval. "The process is just very important; this is the most important process that we'll do … thank you for working to address my concerns."

Keating also pointed out the job description listed on Polihire's website says, "The City Manager reports to the Mayor." According to the City Charter, however, the city manager reports to both the mayor and to council.

Asked about that discrepancy after Council, Pureval said he would look into it. Less than 24 hours later, the description was updated to say "The City Manager reports to the Mayor and the Council."

The salary range is listed at $257,555 to $327,380. Interim City Manager John Curp's salary is about $265,000 a year, which is about what former City Manager Paula Boggs Muething made before resigning earlier this year.

The job requirements include:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration, Business Administration, Urban Planning or closely related field from an accredited college or university required. (A Master’s Degree in one of the areas listed above is preferred.)
  • Ten (10) years of progressively, responsible, professional experience in the administration, leadership, and management of a large organization, preferably in government. (City Manager experience preferred.)
  • A Credentialed Manager Certification with the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) is preferred

See the full recruitment brochure from Polihire below (story continues after)

What's next?

Pureval says council will be more involved in the process moving forward; he says Polihire representatives will present to the Public Safety and Governance Committee soon. Scotty Johnson is chair of that committee; his office said Wednesday afternoon the presentation has not yet been scheduled.

A representative from the mayor's office said Thursday afternoon that Polihire is in the process of scheduling a 30-minute call with each counicl member.

"Once finalists are selected, I'll bring those finalists to have an opportunity for council members to meet with those finalists," Pureval said. "And then of course, I will present a candidate that I select to council for an up or down vote."

Pureval has previously said the public will be involved in the search as well. A person is expected to be in the job no later than August.

Curp is serving as interim city manager and is also overseeing the process for hiring a new police chief. A different search firm will facilitate that process.

Budget adjustment ordinance

The budget adjustment ordinance adds up to $15,733,590. The adjustment is an annual requirement to account for deficits in some departments and unused budget in others.

In addition to the $60,000 for the search firm contract, the ordinance includes:

  • About $8.6 million for Fire Department overtime
  • About $3 million for lump sum payouts and contractual overages for the Police Department
Updated: May 12, 2022 at 2:57 PM EDT
This story was originally published on May 11. It was updated May 12 to include that the job description had been updated and that Polihire is scheduling 30-minute phone calls with each council member.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.