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Think Again: Examining the hiring process for city leaders

July 29, 2011|By Zanku Armenian

In the last couple of months, Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird and City Atty. Scott Howard announced they are retiring. These positions are some of the top management positions in the city.

Since these announcements there has been a lot of public discussion evaluating the performance of these individuals with opinions across the spectrum.

In the case of the city attorney position, the City Council moved quickly to name the city attorney’s chief deputy as his replacement. Recently there have been public comments that the City Council was similarly moving quickly to possibly promote someone from within to replace Starbird.


While on the surface it may seem logical that a City Council would want to name replacements of key personnel quickly so as not to leave a gap in leadership, it’s more important that the right people make it into such critical positions.

The city manager is the chief executive officer of the city, leading approximately 1,200 employees and an overall budget exceeding $800 million. In the private sector, a company this size would conduct a search for the best possible CEO who has the experience to lead the company successfully.

The board of directors of public companies also usually treat such moments as opportunities to take a fresh look at what direction the company needs to go and the culture that needs to be instilled in the next chapter of the organization’s history.

It puzzles me that Glendale’s equivalent of a board of directors, the City Council, would not treat this issue with the same sensitivity and an eye toward the city’s future. I’ll leave it to others to dissect the past performance of the current individuals in these positions. As a citizen, I’m more interested in the process our elected leaders employ in determining the most qualified individuals for positions that play a key role in our collective future.

In the case of the city manager, a search process must take the time to determine the selection criteria for the candidate we need. The process must be fair, consider internal and external candidates, invite the participation of public stakeholders and, above all, be transparent.

Sometimes there may be qualified successors within an organization, but that should not prevent an objective search process that ensures we’re getting the best candidate. This way, even if we do choose an internal candidate, we know they are the best.

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