Exclusive: Inside The City Manager Search Committee’s First Meeting

The City Manager Search Committee held its first meeting on April 18, but many important details of what happened in the private meeting have been withheld from the public. Geneva Believer has obtained these details, and they are presented here to illustrate how transparency is supposed to work.

It was announced by the Mayor at the April 4 Geneva City Council meeting that the newly-selected City Manager Search Committee would hold their first meeting on Wednesday, April 19 at Hobart William Smith.

After the meeting, the city issued a press release summarizing the meeting. However, the press release missed some very important details, including information about the City Manager Search resident survey conducted in February, and the required timeline for the committee to complete the applicant reviews.

An anonymous source has provided Geneva Believer with information from inside the meeting.

Applicant Review deadline In Two Weeks

After Mayor Ron Alcock opened the meeting, it was explained that all committee members would be given rubric to grade each of 21 city manager candidates (yes, maybe, no). Then, membership would meet in subcommittees and decide the same.

The committee was given a deadline of May 2 for all subcommittees to complete and turn in their lists to City Council, and were informed that Council had already reviewed all 21 applicants. Members were also told to meet with their full subcommittee at least once during the two-week review period, but were also told that if they couldn’t meet as a subcommittee, they should still complete their reviews individually.

Later in the meeting, at least one member expressed concerns about the short timeline.

It was also stated City Council would meet in executive session on May 9 to review the lists turned in by the search committee, while candidate telephone interviews were in the process of being scheduled for possible dates of May 23 and 30. Telephone interviews will be attended by City Council, Human Resource Director Jennifer Slywka, City Clerk Doris Myers and the City Manager Search Committee. During those interviews, all candidates will get the same questions, but the committee could request specific questions for different candidates.

Unnecessary Confidentiality Warning?

It was stressed that members only deliver their lists of applicants to council in person, and not by email, by the May 2 deadline, because emails could be subject to FOIL requests, which could result in the privacy of the applicants being violated.

But if members emailed their applicants lists to city council or staff, and then someone made a FOIL request for those emails, the city would be allowed by FOIL rules to withhold any information about the applicants as it would be an “unwarranted invasion of personal privacy” for “disclosure of employment, medical or credit histories or personal references of applicants for employment.”

There is no reason for members to avoid sending emails about the search to city staff because the privacy of job applicants is protected by freedom of information law.

Confidentiality Agreements

Next, all committee members signed confidentiality agreements before moving forward with the meeting. This is appropriate and expected, so that the names and personal details of those who applied for the job won’t be released to the public.

After the confidentiality agreements were signed, the committee was given information related to the February city manager search resident survey before breaking into subcommittees.

Public Survey Was A Complete Failure By Any Measure

Last February, the City announced a survey for residents to provide feedback on the “values and qualities we want the next city manager to have.” The deadline to complete the survey was just three weeks after it was announced. Residents could either complete the survey online, or visit City Hall during business hours to complete a paper survey.

There was no Spanish version of the online survey made available, and it’s unknown if the City offered Spanish version of the paper survey.

There was no publicity other than the initial push when the survey was launched.

The survey was the only time during the entire city manager search process that the city engaged directly with residents to gather feedback on the search.

So, how successful was the survey?

It was announced at the search committee meeting that the city received a total of sixty-eight responses to the survey.

That’s 68 out of around 12,988 residents.

.0052% of everyone who lives in the City of Geneva.

Also:

  • Who created this survey and decided on the questions to be asked?
  • What were the ages, genders and backgrounds of the people who took the survey?
  • Why wasn’t a Spanish version available online?
  • Why hasn’t the city publicly announced the results of the survey?
  • How can this survey be thought to represent the people of Geneva?

Why Was The Public Prohibited From Attending?

The public wasn’t allowed to attend the April 18 meeting of the city manager search committee.

In an April 20th Finger Lakes Times story, Steve Buchiere confirmed with the NY State Committee on Open Government that because the committee does not have the authority to make any decisions, and can only advise city council, the committee is not subject to Open Meetings Law. This means that the city was not required to allow the public to attend.

But the city had no reason to prohibit the public from attending, either.

Through spokespeople, the city has stated in two interviews, and that the “industry standard” is to require confidentiality in the search process in order to protect the privacy of job applicants.

Yet it appears that no one from the public is asking for copies of the the city manager candidate’s job applications, or even a list of candidate’s names.

There was no reason for the city to prevent the public from attending the first search committee meeting. Committee members were given packets with applications from the twenty-one hopefuls vying for the job, but there was no larger discussion or review of the applications during the meeting. If members wanted to review applications after breaking off into subcommittees, they could have asked the public to leave.

The lack of transparency surrounding the entire committee selection process is the problem, and when the city repeatedly states that the process has been kept hidden from the public in order to protect the privacy of job applicants, it gives the appearance that they are deflecting and avoiding legitimate questions about the openness of the search process.

Contact City Council now and tell them that we don’t want them rushing through the search process, blatantly ignoring their responsibility to engage with the people they serve, offering poor excuses for the total lack of transparency, and claiming the committee they have chosen represents our diverse community in any way.

It’s our Geneva. And we can’t allow them to decide our new city manager for us, without us.

Believe!

 

I’ll also point out the average age of committee is 58.
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One comment

  1. It is sad that there is so much confusion about FOIL. You are correct that employment history would be exempt. I think more importantly they are missing the main point that emails are considered the same as written communication and that is why emails are covered by FOIL. Obviously if a list is hand carried and delivered in person that list is still subject to FOIL; so they are trying to go around something that is not in their way by a method that does not help.
    I am continually surprised at the extent that the very simple freedom of information laws can be misconstrued (and not just in Geneva). If the statutes were read and a little thoughtful common sense used; there would be very little fear of FOIL in local governments.

    Like

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