City narrows manager selection to final five

Council hears update on parking survey

What Mayor Arthur Babitz calls “an impressive group” of city manager candidates will meet the public late next month.

“Meet and greet” sessions with the five finalists will be Feb. 26-27, with public gatherings planned the first day, and a round of three panel interviews on the second day of their visit. The schedule and location of the public events will be announced later.

In other business from Monday’s Council meeting:

n Babitz announced plans to start a Gorge-wide assessment of how well municipalities and other jurisdictions are prepared to respond to rail car emergencies.

n On parking, Police Chief Neal Holste reported back to council on a directive given him a month ago to develop a study known as a “metric,” surveying when and where people park their cars and for how long.

On the interagency emergency assessment, Babitz said he is responding after learning of a recent National Transportation Safety Board report stating that local governments would have to pick up the bill for cleanup after a rail accident. Babitz said area agencies need to ascertain how much training and relevant equipment are possessed by their police, fire and rescue services.

“We need to see what the big picture is,” Babitz said, adding that the information is of interest to providers as well as the public.

He plans to complete his contacts to agencies “from Troutdale to Arlington” by this spring.

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The parking metric will likely start in May, Holste said. Officers will observe parking behaviors on a rotating basis among eight downtown zones that have been identified for the process. A metric assesses the workings and efficiency of an organization or function, in this case parking as a public asset, a community service, and revenue source.

Parking in the zones will be recorded at peak and non-peak times between May and September. Holste said the metric study will wait until May to start because by then the State Street Urban Development Project will be substantially complete, and to do it during the construction project would affect the accuracy of the metric.

Holste said two or three of the zones will be surveyed per day, with the goal of all eight zones surveyed in the course of a week. The data will be analyzed next fall as input for possible council action on changes in parking policy including permits, fees, and regulations, and to guide future decisions on meeting parking needs.

Holste also announced that he hopes to have a Community Service Officer hired in about three weeks. The CSO has three main duties: parking enforcement, code enforcement and evidence management.

Final interviews, background checks and psychological assessment of the three finalists are due to take place over the next week. Two of the three finalists are from the community. The new CSO will succeed Dave Phelps, who retired in December. Seventy people applied for the job.

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On the city manager search, Babitz said the final five includes men and women hailing from four states including Oregon, and that more than one have city manager experience, while the others bring a diverse array of professional backgrounds to the table. Until all the finalists formally acknowledge they agree to come to Hood River for interviews, the identities of the five cannot be disclosed, according to Babitz.

The city administration has been guided by interim city managers since August, following the resignation of Bob Francis after nine years on the job. Francis is now chief operations officer for Hood River Juice Co. Don Otterman was hired initially as interim, but he stepped down in November, citing health reasons, and was succeeded by Russ Clouse.

City Council has said it hopes to have the permanent city manager on the job by May. The opening drew a total of 50 applicants, which was narrowed to about 20 last week. On Jan. 23, City Council met in executive session to compare resumes and choose the final five.

The next step in the process is for each member of council to recruit a citizen to serve on two interview panels on Feb. 27. The panels will be comprised of citizens and representatives of other local government agencies, including Port of Hood River, Hood River County, Hood River County School District, and Parks and Recreation District. The third interview panel will be the council itself.

At least one of the panel sessions will include exercises designed to gauge the candidates’ skills in problem-solving and improvisational thinking.

“It will give a chance to see how they think,” Babitz said. The professional search firm hired by the city will devise a set of questions that would be asked in common of all five candidates.

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