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Tiffin to hire search firm for administrator’s position

Discussion on filling council seat likely to be held Feb. 11

TIFFIN – The City of Tiffin will hire a headhunter to replace a departing city administrator.
Michon Jackson tendered her resignation in early January, giving notice that her last day with the city would be this week. Jackson has served as the city’s administrator for three years. She accepted a position as a utilities department supervisor in Marco Island, Florida.
At the council’s Wednesday, Jan. 27, meeting, the group voted to hire the Callahan Municipal Consultants LLC, a firm based in Anamosa, to do an executive search for Jackson’s replacement.
After conducting research on eight consulting firms, Jackson narrowed the pool to two and offered them for council’s consideration. Along with Callahan, Jackson suggested Slavin Management Consultants of Arizona, based on the company’s lower contract price and guarantee that if the position were to be vacated for any reason within two years of hire, the firm would conduct another search and waive their professional fees.
Council member Jim Bartels and Mayor Steve Berner had previous experience working with Callahan; once when Callahan did consulting work with Tiffin’s city engineers, and again when he was asked to help redefine the city’s arrangement with the Tiffin Fire Association.
“I would prefer Callahan for several reasons,” said council member Jim Bartels. “One, is he’s local. The other reason is he used to work with us in city hall and our engineers and he’s comfortable with changing the old part of town. His price is designated, and includes all expenses, whereas Slavin lists their price plus expenses,” said Bartels. “I don’t think that’s good.”
Council member Peggy Upton also advocated for Callahan based on his firm’s location.
“I like the idea of someone who knows what Iowa is about,” said Upton.
Berner leaned toward Slavin instead; when Callahan consulted on whether the city should take over the volunteer fire department, Berner said Callahan didn’t offer much guidance.
“He basically told us what we already knew, and gave a recommendation to leave it like it is, and didn’t really inform or provide any information,” said Berner.
Locality won out in the end, with the council voting 4-0 to hire Callahan Municipal Consultants at a fee not to exceed $12,960. That amount does not include potential costs for advertising the position, the cost of meals or snacks during interview times, or travel and lodging expenses for candidates.
Jackson said once begun, the process to find a replacement could take about three or four months, depending on the availability of the person hired.
Meanwhile, the council also gave verbal consensus to hire an interim city administrator at a cost of $35 per hour.
Jackson solicited interest from two candidates, but one would only be available 30 hours per week or less. The other, candidate Tim Long, would be available full time upon finishing work with the City of Cascade. Long is a retired city administrator who offers interim services, Jackson said.
Council member Mike Ryan indicated a preference for Long.
“All things being equal, I’d prefer to have someone who can give us full time,” said Ryan.
Since a contract for Long’s employment was not prepared, the council agreed to hold a special meeting on Feb. 4 in order to formally approve a detailed agreement for Long’s interim services.
In addition to replacing Jackson, the Tiffin council is also in the position of having to fill a seat left vacant by the Jan. 22 resignation of councilor Mark Petersen. They have the option of appointing someone to fill the vacancy– in which case the seat would be up for reelection upon the city’s next election– or holding a special election and filling the seat for the remainder of Petersen’s term, which expires December 2017.
Wednesday’s discussion centered around appointment, though no formal action was taken.
Mayor Berner recognized two citizens in the audience interested in the council seat, and offered each the opportunity to introduce himself to the council.
Al Havens, a recent retiree, has been a member of Tiffin’s Planning & Zoning Commission and served on the city’s Board of Adjustment.
“I want to be as active in the city as possible,” said Haven. “There’s a need.”
Jason Wilkerson said he has been a resident of Tiffin for 17 years, and described himself as a middle-aged person who hopes to get more people his age involved in city activities.
“I’ve seen three mayors come and go. I’ve seen a lot of great improvements (in the city), and some things that are not so hot,” said Wilkerson. “I’m here to do a job to see the town grow.”
Berner directed Jackson to create a brief application form for potential council appointees, including Havens and Wilkerson.
“At the next council meeting, we’ll have to make a decision,” said Berner. “The council will have it on the agenda to discuss special election versus appointment, and we’ll be talking about timeframes and things like that.”
The council’s next regular meeting will be Wednesday, Feb. 11, at 6:30 p.m.