Mayor would strip manager’s hiring powers
Mayor Judy Kennedy calls it “best practices in human resources management.” City Manager Rick Herbek calls it “an illegal resolution” and “a violation of the City Charter.”
Kennedy and Herbek were banging heads again Thursday night toward the end of the City Council’s bi-weekly work session over a hiring practices resolution the mayor wanted placed on Monday night’s agenda.
Kennedy attached a note to Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson and Herbek saying that she wanted to get a draft of the resolution to them in advance of Monday’s meeting.
“It may need some tweaking,” Kennedy said in the note. “I know that we will have a second step which is to modify the actually (sic) language in the charter. This resolution is meant to start the discussion and process.”
Assistant Corporation Counsel Tiffany Reis was asked for her opinion on whether the proposed resolution was legal. Corporation Counsel Michelle Kelson was on vacation, but had conferred with her assistant by phone that day.
Reis said she wasn’t certain about the legality of the resolution and hesitated to give an opinion without time to research the matter further. She suggested it would be best to not put the resolution on Monday’s agenda.
The resolution starts out with this oddly worded introduction:
“A resolution to memorialize the intention to modify the City Charter to ensure that best practices in human resource management are followed in the hiring process for City employees.”
“WHEREAS it is in the City of Newburgh’s best interest to hire the best possible employees and leaders with the proper relationship skills and technical skills and
“WHEREAS best practices in the competitive interview process has the highest likelihood of identifying the most qualified employee candidate and
“WHEREAS the only method currently defined in the City Charter states that the City Manager shall make the appointment to all positions in the City and this practice does not ensure the best selection of the most qualified candidate and has the potential for selecting candidates on other criteria besides skill and best fit for the job and
“WHEREAS the following general best practices in the competitive hiring process should be used when hiring full-time employees
1) the job shall be defined by both duties and skills required to do the job,
2) the selection criteria shall be defined before the job is advertised,
3) the job shall be advertised in the appropriate media channels for that job,
4) other tests may be required and must be passed as deemed necessary,
5) reference checks, background checks, license checks and validation of resume statements must be done.
“WHEREAS the following best practices in the competitive hiring process additionally should be used when hiring high-level personnel such as Superintendents, Directors, Deputy Director or Managers of Departments
6) an interview panel of at least five people shall be created consisting of the City Manager, two Council people, one other Superintendent or Director selected by the Council members and the Human Resource personnel or Civil Service agent,
7) Selection of the person shall be by consensus or majority of the panel by evaluating the predefined objective selection criteria.
“WHEREAS these steps are not currently defined or outlined in the City Charter
“BE IT RESOLVED that the appropriate updates, modifications and deletions be incorporated into the City Charter to ensure that the above best practices in hiring employees will be followed.
“BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that a moratorium on hiring city employees be put in place until these best practices are passed or agreed to be followed in the interim.
The city manager minced no words.
“I take strong exception to your draft resolution to modify the City Charter as far as it affects the City Manager’s role in the hiring process for City employees,” Herbek began in a lengthy rebuttal of the resolutiuon.
“… More to the issue of this resolution, the City of Newburgh has adopted what is known as the City Manager Form of Government. Over the years, Charter Review Commissions have studied alternative methods of governement and have always come back to the City Manager form. In 1993, a proposal by the Charter Review Commission to institute a strong mayor form of government was defeated by the voters. Charter Review Commissions in 2006-2007 and 2011 also gave careful consideration to the strong mayor form of government and decided not to recommend such a change. Indeed, the 2011 Charter Review Commission proposed charter revisions that made it more difficult for a City Manager to be terminated at the whim of the Council. These measures, which the voters approved, are intended to provide for some stability in City Government, which the City of Newburgh has sorely lacked for decades.
“Clearly the City Manager form of government provides that the City Manager is the hiring authority for the City. The City Council is the legislative body. Please refer to Sections C4.00 and C5-05 of the City Charter. To make any changes to these provisions requires major amendments proposed by a Charter Review Commission and approved by a referendum before the electorate.”
Herbek said that as a long-time municipal administrator, he has only used best management practices in the hiring of city employees.
“We must comply with New York State Civil Service Law and adhere to the required protocol associated with the appointment process including but not limited to the adoption and classification of job descriptions, duties and minimum qualifications for each position, and the use of civil service exam eligible lists for competitive titles…”
“… The City Charter is very specific about the powers and duties of the City Manager, as well as of the Mayor. As we have recently seen, sweeping changes can be made to the Charter, which significantly affect not only the government but the very structure of the City itself. However, the process must be followed and the public must be involved. Such changes cannot be made at the whim or behest of one individual.
“I remain vociferously and vehemently opposed to any changes in City government which circumvent the processes set in place by municipal law,” Herbek said.
In Kennedy’s note to Corporation Counsel Kelson and Herbek, she ends with:
“I want to make sure that everyone knows that this effort has nothing to do with our current city manager. It is an effort [to] ensure that we follow best practices now and in the future especially when hiring our leaders.”
By ALLAN GAUL