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City hires firm to find new city manager

The same search firm that recruited Police Chief Russ Thomas to Merced will help the city find a replacement for outgoing City Manager Jim Marshall.

Marshall, 58, announced his retirement in January. His last official day is March 28, but he’ll stay on in an interim capacity until his replacement is found.

The City Council recently voted to hire Roseville-based Bob Murray & Associates to find Marshall’s successor. The same firm conducted a $25,000 nationwide search to find a successor to former Merced Police Chief Tony Dossetti two years ago.

The search for a new city manager will probably cost between $25,000 and $30,000, said Marshall. Hiring Merced’s first new city manager in 16 years is the most important decision the council will face this year, said Councilman Jim Sanders, one that has “ramifications long into the future.”

The council has yet to decide what role the public will play in that decision. At a minimum, residents will probably be asked to help craft the job description for Marshall’s successor, coming up with a list of qualities and characteristics Merced wants in its next top administrator, said Sanders.But both Sanders and Councilman Bill Spriggs said they don’t support the idea of releasing candidates’ names to the public or having a citizens’ panel choose the next city manager.

Citizen panels interviewed selected finalists for the police chief position two years ago. Panelists signed confidentiality agreements so candidates’ names wouldn’t be leaked, said Marshall. It’s up to the council whether to use a similar process in the city manager search, he said.

A search that’s too public could cut the number of people who apply for the job by half, said Spriggs, which could end up costing Merced “its next Jim Marshall.”

“The public has a voice (in the decision)— they elected us,” said Spriggs. “The charter vested that decision in the city council — they didn’t vest it in a committee. It would be doing a grave disservice to this community to limit the number of candidates.”

James Keene, Western Director of the International City/County Management Association, agreed that a search that’s truly transparent can narrow the applicant pool.

“The challenge is you have a shrinking pool of qualified applicants willing to make the move (to a new city), and there’s a lot of competition and a lot of city manager jobs open,” said Keene. “Communities want to do everything they can to differentiate themselves and say, ‘We’re the community you should look at.’ Confidentiality is one way to do that.”

Making Merced an attractive choice for applicants could also mean offering Marshall’s successor a much higher salary than Marshall’s current rate of $171,653 a year, said Sanders.

“The public is going to have to understand that we’ll have to pay more money than we’ve ever paid,” said Sanders. “We may be looking at $200,000 just to get someone in the door. Compared to a typical Merced salary, it looks like a lot.”

Chief Thomas was the first city administrator hired by an outside search firm. Thomas, who came to Merced from Fort Bragg, was also the first chief hired from outside the Merced police department in its history.

Marshall has been Merced’s city manager since 1992. Before that, he worked as city manager in Ceres for 14 years.

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at (209)385-2484 or lalbrecht@mercedsun-star.com.

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