Letter to the EditorBusiness as usual

Kevin Wadworth Johnson, - Portsmouth

When Portsmouth voters chose to return to a Council/City Manager form of government in November 2011, it was with the assumption that a city manager hired by council would be highly qualified as befits the management requirements of a $60+ million in total assets governmental corporation.

In 2012, city council created a citizen advisory committee to hold public meetings to develop the requirements sought of a professional city manager, to hire a professional job recruiter to assist and advise the committee and develop a budget for such as well as travel expenses for the top three applicants; to be approved by city council. Over 60 applications were received. All three top candidates had city or village administration experience and were from out of town. A meeting was held for the public to meet the top three applicants and, as well, a separate meeting for city department heads to provide their feedback.

In short, in 2012, the search for a new city manager was conducted with integrity and transparency. When the city manager left earlier this year, the citizens of Portsmouth had every right to assume that the next search would be conducted with the same level of integrity and transparency. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.

In 2018, city council has conducted all such discussions in secret executive sessions.

In 2018, city council reduced the starting salary by some $50,000.

In 2018, city council decided it could do the job of a professional job recruiter.

In 2018, city council chose to not provide travel expenses to any applicant.

In 2018, city council received less than 20 applications.

In 2018, city council has not scheduled a public opportunity to meet the three top applicants. A meeting for city department heads, given the results, seems superfluous.

According to the press release announcing that “The City of Portsmouth is seeking a dynamic and highly motivated leader to act as City Manager,” it states: “The selected individual should have a Master’s Degree in Public Administration or related field, and ICMA (International City/ County Management Association) certification is preferred. The candidate should have a minimum of 5 years of experience in public management at the assistant city manager/administrator, deputy city manager, or city manager/administrator level. Directors and department heads with more than 10 years of experience with federal, state or other public entities will also be considered.”

Between including directors and department heads as a hiring consideration and not providing for travel expenses, the result seems foreordained: Two of the top three candidates chosen by this council are current city department heads. Neither has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration or related field, nor ICMA certification. In fact, one has an Associates Degree in Ceramics Engineering (20 years as a department head) while another has a B.S. in Criminal Justice and a master’s degree in Criminal Justice (six years as a department head). The only non-local has a B.A. in Political Science and a master’s degree in Organizational Management (two years village administration, six years as a department head and ICMA membership/training).

Neither of the local department heads would be considered by any other city or village seeking a professional city manager. Only because of the manner by which this job search was designed are they considered “eligible.”

Because members of this city council decided they had the job skills necessary to develop the entirety of a CEO-level job search methodology and recruiting, a skill set not one of them has demonstrated or experienced in the past, we the citizens of Portsmouth are more than likely faced with a “good ole’ boy” situation by which the deck has been stacked and a less than truly qualified individual will most probably be our next city manager… all the while accomplished in secret executive sessions.

Kevin Wadworth Johnson,