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Permanent city manager for Port Arthur may not be in place until January

It could be next calendar year before Port Arthur has a fulltime city manager in place and working.

It’s not a timeline that pleases everyone.

“I understand waiting but I want to say, personally, I think that is a long time,” Cal Jones said. “Four more months waiting for a permanent city manager after what we’ve been waiting so far. I thought we would have someone in place in 60 days or so.”

The District 2 City Councilman wasn’t directing his frustration at any one person but simply responding to a presentation made by a representative of Baker Tilly, which has been hired by the city to lead a city manager’s search.

“Just the thought of going into 2020 waiting on a city manager blows my mind,” Jones said in council chambers during Tuesday’s regularly scheduled city council meeting.

Earlier this month, councilmembers authorized the city to contract with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, an international consulting firm with an office near Dallas, to conduct a professional search for a permanent city manager.

Edward Williams, of Baker Tilly, told councilmembers the search process began last week following his firm’s initial meeting with city leaders.

The outline of a desired candidate has been drawn up, which includes, in part, finding a city manager who is educated, experienced, approachable, detailed, ethical, financially strong and friendly.

With a profile in place, Edwards said Baker Tilly would launch a national search that includes outreach, advertising and marketing lasting between four and six weeks.

Following that, Baker Tilly would screen the applications and identify a number of semi-finalists.

“Once we have identified a group of semi-finalists, we then go back and conduct a very detailed comprehensive background of all the individuals,” Williams said, adding the process leaves no stone unturned. “It is critical that we find an individual that will do right by you and by the city. That’s a process that may take anywhere from 10 to 23 days.”

Baker Tilly would then set up approximately five face-to-face interviews to take place in Port Arthur.

According to Williams, his firm would be available to help in candidate negotiations and initiating a formal offer.

“In many instances you want someone that currently is employed,” Williams said. “He or she may have some type of current agreement that may require a 30-day notice or more.

“We anticipate having someone, at least in principle and under some type of agreement, by November or December, hopefully to begin in December or January.”

Williams stressed to councilmembers they want someone who would give their current employer the proper notification, “because you would expect they would do that for you.”

The city has been without a permanent city manager since November 2017 when former city manager Brian McDougal stepped down. Harvey Robinson was pressed into the interim role from December 2017 until March 2019, when Rebecca Underhill replaced him.

Port Arthur city councilmembers elevated Assistant City Manager Ron Burton earlier this month to the position of interim city manager before authorizing another search to find a full-time replacement for the top non-elected job in the city.

The City Council’s effort at an in-house search for McDougal’s replacement ended in March with no replacement named. Councilmembers interviewed four finalists for the position, but could not muster a majority of votes for any of the candidates.