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Council’s split decision: Port Arthur to vet 9 city manager applicants

The city of Port Arthur will push ahead in considering applications by nine new candidates for the permanent position of city manager.

The nine were recruited by way of an in-house effort, which ended April 17.

The decision to consider the nine sparked division and some apparent rancor among five councilmembers who were present at Tuesday’s regular meeting at City Hall. Three — Mayor Derrick Freeman, District 2 Councilman Cal Jones and District 7 Councilwoman Charlotte Moses — favored moving ahead solely on these nine new applications that were generated by the city’s in-house search.

Two councilmembers — District 1 Councilman Raymond Scott and District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet — favored hiring an outside, professional search firm to recruit additional new qualified candidates, with the instruction that the search firm would include for consideration the nine additional candidates gathered by April 17.

The City Council recently elevated former Assistant City Manager Rebecca Underhill to the position of interim city manager while councilmembers seek a permanent city manager to replace former City Manager Brian McDougal, who left the position in November 2017. Former Assistant City Manager Harvey Robinson was hired as an interim city manager in December 2017, and left the interim position only this month. Underhill replaced him solely in the temporary position.

The City Council had attempted an in-house city search — 18 candidates applied — for a permanent replacement for Robinson that started in December 2018 and ended March 27, when councilmembers could not clearly agree on a single candidate for the permanent position.

Moses contended Tuesday that the City Council had advertised after that meeting for more candidates, who were told to apply by April 17. She said the city should vet them and consider them for the permanent position before widening the search with the professional search firm.

Doucet, in his motion, countered that the city should hire the search firm to seek the best possible candidates, and tell the firm to add the nine additional candidates for consideration. The motion failed 3-2.

City staff members suggested that vetting these nine candidates and conducting interviews, possibly over Skype, would take only a few weeks.

Freeman suggested taking a dual course, vetting the nine new candidates while simultaneously seeking proposals from professional search firms for conducting an outside search, in case none of the nine pass City Council muster.