Residents confounded by Eagle’s expedited town manager search
EAGLE — The Eagle Town Board’s decision to launch a search for a new town manager just weeks prior to an election that will decide whether or not that individual will continue in the job has several town residents confounded.
As confirmed by Eagle Town Attorney Ed Sands, Eagle is a statuary town that must follow a set of regulations established by the state. One of the rules states that within 30 days of the time a new town board is elected, members must appoint or reappoint town officers including the manager, clerk, treasurer and attorney.
On April 5, five of the seven Eagle Town Board seats will be up for election. This week, the current town board announced the town manager search, set a Jan. 22 deadline for applications and stated its intention to hire a new manager by mid March. That means a new manager would have just one month of relatively secure employment before the newly seated board takes its mandatory action regarding appointments.
“Why are they in such a hurry?” said former town board member Scott Turnipseed. “Even in the most ideal situation, it’s a challenge to get qualified candidates. I know that from the last search.”
Turnipseed was involved in the town’s manager search in 2013 when former manager Jon Stavney was hired. He noted that process took six months.
“We weren’t dawdling around. It takes that amount of time to get qualified candidates and to screen them and interview them,” said Turnipseed.
“I know they need a town manager but that goes hand-in-hand with why did they let Jon Stavney go so just before the election?” said Turnipseed. “It seems to me the more sensible approach is to find an interim town manager.”
“Anything done that quickly can’t be done well,” said Matt Soloman, an Eagle resident who has been closely following the recent board actions.
“Any town manager candidate worth our time as a community would not apply for this position, knowing they might not be reappointed in less than a month,” said Solomon.
“How are you possibly going to hire a candidate in mid March knowing that by the second Tuesday in April they might not have a job?” said Turnipseed.
In response to that very question, the town board released a statement saying “The town does not subscribe to the notion that we should suspend progress on any tasks, including the manager search, simply because an election is pending.”
If the board does find and hire a town manager, chances are he or she would negotiate an employment contract. That leaves another question — Would a newly seated board be obligated to pay a severance deal for a manager who worked for just one month if the newly elected board members decide against reappointing the newly hired candidate?
The town attorney said he would urge the town board to be very careful in contract negotiates.
“There is probably a legal issue there that’s not been decided by a higher court,” said Sands. “But clearly the new board will get to make the decision about its town officers, including the manager.”
Sands noted a recent example in Meeker where a town board provided a generous severance package for a town manager just weeks before an election. The voters elected a new slate of candidates who did not reappoint the manager and objected to paying the severance.
The issue was eventually decided in a settlement agreement.