The first round of interviews to fill the large and heavy shoes of City Manager P. Lamont Ewell took place this week, behind closed doors, not open to the public. The Santa Monic City Council met in special session Monday and Tuesday night, interviewing an undisclosed, yet trimmed down number of candidates from the more than 100 applicants.
Mayor Ken Genser was not present at the special sessions because of health issues, said councilors who spoke to The Mirror. Even if the attending council members interviewed and agreed on a candidate, an additional meeting with the mayor will be necessary for full body ratification.
Councilors added that an additional meeting would likely be necessary to discuss terms with any potential new city manager, which is how the procedure went when Ewell was hired.
“We’re looking for someone exceptional, as a manager, who shares the values of Santa Monica,” said Kevin McKeown, a council member.
McKeown also said that whomever is chosen, they will have plenty of work ahead of them, tackling issues such as fiscal strategy, traffic, development, education, sustainability and affordable housing. The biggest challenge appears to be navigating the economic crisis.
Councilors who spoke to The Mirror pointed out that Santa Monica, as a city, has some very unique elements that make it an attractive city to manage. Some of those elements are its half of a $.5 billion budget, bus systems, rent control and dealing with a large tourism industry.
Robert Holbrook, said few of the applicants had experience with all aspects of this job, but added “You don’t have to know everything about everything, but you have to make sure it’s well managed.”
Richard Bloom, a council member, said he is keeping long-term issues in mind when selecting the new city manager.
“We need somebody that will do well with the issues we’re not anticipating,” he said.
McKeown said that at the end of the interviews, if the perfect candidate isn’t chosen, the Council will continue to interview until the perfect match is found. He said the decision would not be rushed and constrained to a timetable.
Ewell, who announced his intended retirement in August and plans to leave office at the end of December, has expressed his willingness to stay on until the right candidate is chosen to replace him.
Councilors told The Mirror that they had received concerns about the replacement process taking place behind closed doors and not having an election. McKeown pointed out that the 1953 Brown Act allows for matters regarding personel to take place outside the public.
“What it comes down to is we need someone who will work well with the City Council, with the boards and the commissioner and the residents,” said Holbrook.
Holbrook added that as elected representatives, they know more about what qualities and traits the candidates will need and added that it’s difficult to get quality candidates if the proceedings are under public scrutiny.
“I’ll be glad when we make our final selection,” said Bloom, “because it’s important for the community to know who the replacement is and to have a smooth transition.”