Kolb’s past confronts him in Durham, N.C.

Kolb in Durham, N.C.As Durham, N.C. narrows its list of finalists for city manager, each of the candidates is being pressed to explain why they were ousted from their previous cities, according to today’s story in The News and Observer. During a Monday night forum designed to let community members there meet the three finalists for city manager, reporters pressed former Wichita city manager George Kolb to respond to criticisms about his communication with council members, confrontations with Sunflower Community Action and why he was forced to resign in January. (Kolb has since been working as a guest lecturer at Wichita State University.)

Kolb, no stranger to these questions, defended himself as he has in the past. He said he keeps council members informed, handled Sunflower appropriately and resigned because of “philosophical differences.” But he also used his community interview to boast the progress he felt he facilitated in Wichita.

Prompted by community member questions, Kolb said minority contractors obtained about 10 percent more city business under his watch, which appears to be true — or close to it — based on the most recent city-generated reports. He also highlighted the city’s partnership with private philanthropists to build the Boys and Girls Club on 21st Street. (Kolb said it’s a model for the nation, but he didn’t mention that President Bush liked the idea so much he came out to see it.) And he said if he gets the job in Durham, he will hold himself and city staff accountable. “People ought to be held accountable for what they say they’re going to do,” he told the crowd.

Kolb, who said he felt has been mis-characterized in past Eagle articles, also seemed to acknowledge that being city manager is a job done under intense pressure, and that it’s not always pretty. “Sometimes these things can be boring,” he said of the community forum. “We’re not professional actors. We’re not professors who stand before a class, although some of them can be boring too.”

Headhunting a headhunter

ClassifiedWichita City Council members have yet to agree on how they will screen, interview and hire a new city manager. And they’re already working at a slower pace than council members were four years ago when they sought a replacement for Chris Cherches. Here’s a comparison:

In 2003, the city waited only five days after Cherches’ resignation to request proposals from headhunting firms. This time around, it took them 20 days.

In 2003, the city gave search firms just nine days to submit a proposal. This year it’s 44 days. (Proposals are due Jan. 31.)

The city may not be in such a hurry this time because it has Wichita State University professor Ed Flentje filling in. He’s widely viewed as a cautious and competent manager, and many of the city’s top officials finished their public administration masters degrees with Flentje’s final class. Flentje also is spearheading an “environmental assessment” of City Hall, which is supposed to identify any major problems and suggest ways to do things more efficiently.

It’s probably worth noting that in the city’s request for a search firm, it said “while cost of service will be evaluated and considered, more attention will be given to the search firm’s past experience and service in recruiting for City Managers and the amount of time needed to complete the recruitment.”

In 2004, the city hired Slavin Management Consultants for $21,000. It’s unclear what Wichita may pay this year. But late last year, the city of Austin, which is significantly larger than Wichita, hired Arcus Public for $25,000 to produce candidates for a city manager vacancy there.

Wichita City Council members will discuss the screening and interview process again before creating a complete hiring outline. Their next meeting is Feb. 5.

Ed Flentje’s first week

Interim City Manager Ed FlentjeIn his first week, Interim City Manager Ed Flentje is setting a calm and cautious tone in City Hall. He’s asking city Finance Director Kelly Carpenter to communicate directly with him, setting hour-long meetings with city council members and pressing the City Council to agree on a process to hire a permanent city manager.

The cautious side of him emerged Tuesday when he suggested that things like $890,000 land acquisition isn’t the type of thing that should be on the consent agenda, which is where the city’s park land purchase was until Council member Jim Skelton pulled it for discussion.

Flentje’s calm side is pretty much omni-present, at least publicly. But it was perhaps most visible during a workshop in which Mayor Carl Brewer suggested that Skelton’s idea to have the council interview city manager candidates in an open forum would allow for too much “grandstanding.” Skelton took offense and said so with fire in his voice. Flentje, meanwhile, sat 10-feet away watching like a moderator and just moved the conversation along once the raised voices gave him a chance.  Flentje also raised a caution flag during that discussion, noting that the council is already a few weeks behind the schedule they used to hire a city manager almost four years ago.