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City council to mull recruitment firms

When departing and now former city manager Taylour Tedder was on his way out, he took some steps to try to smooth out the transition to a new city executive in the form of five recruitment firms vying for the call to be hired to conduct a nationwide search for his replacement.

At the council’s meeting of May 14, members told city staff that they would like to hear actual presentations from each of the firms. On the agenda for this week’s meetings were presentations from two of those firms —Raftelis (the firm that also worked with the city on last year’s utility rate study) and Developmental Associates. Both agreed to present their proposals at Monday’s meeting.

At the earlier meeting, council member Cokie Booth voiced support for Raftelis based on their previous work for the city while council member Steve Walton pushed for Developmental Associates. The approaches of the two firms, based on the info they presented to the city, are very different. Raftelis advocates a fairly traditional recruitment approach in which they use their contacts to provide the city with a pool of candidates from which to choose. Developmental Associates took a very different tack, adding a layer of psychological assessment based on “emotional intelligence” factors in order to ensure that candidates are a good fit.

Cost for either of the companies was in the range of $35,000-$40,000, with Developmental Associates offering a kind of guarantee that whoever was chosen for the job would remain on the job for at least two years or another search would be performed at no cost to the city.

Walton made multiple mentions of the assessment approach as well as the guarantee along with the company’s claim that more than 96% of the candidates they had placed were still on that job or had been promoted within the same city after five years.

Those choices appeared to narrow this week when Developmental Associates bowed out of the process on Monday morning. When asked if they had given a reason, acting City Manager Michael Mays responded, “No. He just said he was withdrawing his firm from consideration.”

Even though they appeared to have just one choice, the council declined to give the contract to Raftelis. After a presentation from Pamela Widerman in which she repeatedly referred to the city as “the city of Boulder,” the council unanimously directed staff to keep looking.

The single public comment about the recruitment issue from Fred Voltz was also skeptical of Raftelis as the ideal partner, albeit for different reasons.

“Boulder City has a human resources function which should be capable of advertising and vetting permanent city manager candidates,” he said via telephone. “If public money is to be spent, the superior candidate would be the more specialized Developmental Associates, not Raftelis. Through two utility rate studies, Raftelis has failed to address a list of statistical inconsistencies and omissions highlighted by $40 million of surplus, uncommitted money collected from ratepayers without adequately explaining why rate increases are necessary. Additionally, if Raftelis finds a candidate, there is the inherent bias that comes with selecting a consultant who will conduct a $200,000 BC utility rate study, because the new city manager will hold fealty to Raftelis for enabling employment.”

After Widerman touted her firm’s expertise and experience in placing candidates in city manager positions across the country, Mayor Joe Hardy asked, “Did you recently have a hand in recruiting the city manager that left us?”

“We did,” Widerman answered with a smile. Off mic, council member Sherri Jorgensen appeared to point and say, “That was you?”

As the city used a firm called GovHR in their 2021 search that resulted in the hiring of Tedder, it appears that Hardy was alluding to Raftelis having been the firm who recruited Tedder for his new position in Delaware. Before leaving, Tedder said in an interview that he was not looking for a job and had been contacted by a recruiter.

Booth, apparently in reference to the guarantee offered by the bowed-out Developmental Associates asked Widerman what they do to ensure the hiring of a candidate that will stay. It is a germane question given that whoever gets the job this time around will be the fourth city manager in BC since 2017.

Widerman answered that her firm could not guarantee that anyone would stay for any length of time. “I think you all do that,” she said.

Jorgensen questioned the more than $35,000 cost asking what the city got for that. Widerman explained the process of a national search and Jorgensen said, “So you might be saying that we would be doing to someone else what happened to us? Is that what I’m hearing? Do we like to call that headhunting?”

“You would be doing a national recruitment,” Widerman replied.

After council member Matt Fox expressed support for Raftelis, Walton seemed to put on the brakes. Characterizing the Raftelis approach as one based on ticking of certain checked boxes, he said, “The check boxes, whether it’s a degree or whether it’s something they’ve done or a certificate they’ve achieved, really doesn’t talk to how well they do a job. It talks to whether they have achieved a degree or checked a box.”

Walton referred to what he called having been involved in municipal hiring for many years and said, “We have to make sure we do the absolute best we can to recruit, identify, hire and develop the best talent,” expressing doubt that the Raftelis approach would do that.

Booth added that she would like to see the city’s HR staff try to conduct a search on its own without the expense of a consultant before spending the money. “Last time, it got us two-and-a-half years and I think our staff could do just as well.”

Walton poured cold water on that as well as he appeared still focused on the psych evaluation services described in the Developmental Associates initial proposal, saying that, “The speciality of emotional intelligence testing and psych eval assessments are not general skills. I don’t believe they are things that our staff has done and I don’t think that they, of themselves, without hiring some specialists, could perform it to the depth that we need it.”

In the end, the city punted, directing Mays to seek out other bids with an emphasis on firms that offer assessment in addition to recruitment. Mays reported that his goal would be to have any additional firms that might be interested for the council to look at in their sole July meeting scheduled for July 9.

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