“Don’t tell me about procedure,” Village of Holly President Jeff Miller barked out towards the audience at the second special meeting of the village council in as many weeks, referring to his allowance of village employees to speak during the discussion, which drew whispers and questions from the gallery.
“Now or ever.”
A pattern is emerging with the business of this village council, in that it apparently takes less than 48 hours after a good decision for the wheels to start falling off the wagon. This occurred again, as council member Pauline Kenner alerted the council, just hours after candidate interviews, that some informal background checking she did on lead manager candidate Michael Uskiewicz revealed an alleged spotty employment history that did not come out during the interview process.
And following another emerging pattern, President Miller handled the startling revelation by exercising his self-supposed presidential authority, upending the whole hiring process and calling another special meeting with the intention of pursuing Mr. Walker for the permanent position, despite two previous refusals.
Stating that the manager hiring process has become a gross comedy of errors in the past 15 days would be severe understatement, and in no way funny at all. But it’s the premise behind President Miller’s outburst—adherence to proper procedure, and his selective apathy toward it—that is the cause of this current crisis and it is forming the identity of the current village council.
To be fair, the circumstances surrounding hiring Holly’s top executive position were not exactly ideal. Previous manager Marsha Powers was terminated about two months prior to council elections. The village charter requires hiring of a village manager to be completed within six months of the start of the vacancy, and the holiday season interjected the hiring period. The previous council deferred to the newly elected council to handle the bulk of the process and decision-making, effectively truncating the search from six months to just over two.
Nevertheless, it is common procedure (in business as well as in public administration) for executive candidates to participate in multiple interview sessions, first using standardized questions and following up with more specific or targeted inquiry. It is common for executive candidates to undergo background checks and research before receiving an offer, or perhaps even before a first or second interview. Even mid-level managers or entry-level employees frequently participate in interview sessions that last longer than sixty minutes, which was the average length of the four council candidate interviews.
An elementary review of Mrs. Kenner’s findings showed Mr. Uskiewicz’s tenures were in politically-charged organizations, and that he was an agent of change who seemingly bore the brunt of his own efforts to reform the status quo. Whether his eventual outcomes were the result of failure, incompetence or malfeasance, or that his efforts resulted in his political martyrdom, remained to be investigated. The revelations of Mr. Uskiewicz’s employment history reinforced the need for more targeted conversations with him, and more attention to good hiring practices in general.
These points and more were brought up by various council members. Don Winglemire and Sandra Kleven were correct that the nature of a municipal executive—an administrator at the core of politics—produces more likelihood for turnover and/or dismissals, demonstrated no further away than the history of managers in Holly’s village offices. The drawback of one-and-done, audition-style interviews, as highlighted by Jason Hughes and Jackie Campbell, is that it leaves limited opportunities to dig deeper and more intimately into a candidate, their perspectives, history and personalities.
Even though the second-rated candidate scored far behind Mr. Uskiewicz, it seemed like there were enough ideas and input thrown out to move the council toward utilizing common-sense best practices for executive hiring—thorough and proper procedure, even if it was a little late in the game.
Instead, President Miller pushed the council into turning Mrs. Kenner’s findings into automatic disqualifiers with no further inquiry. Mr. Uskiewicz was afforded no opportunity to describe or explain the conditions behind his employment history, and the other candidates were summarily dismissed after what amounted to a superficial examination.
There’s little doubt that this action was influenced by the ongoing availability of Mr. Walker and the lobbying on his behalf by Holly’s political elite. Mr. Walker was pressed to reconsider for a third time, and this time requested a performance evaluation in executive session. Upon emerging after an hour behind closed doors, Mr. Walker capitulated to the request, with the village council ready to appoint him on the spot and enter directly into negotiations of employment terms.
That is, until council member Jason Hughes spoke up.
Mr. Hughes’s concerns that there would be an appearance of impropriety were well-founded. The public perception of the council and Mr. Walker emerging from a closed door meeting with a reversal of position and a prospective job offer in hand, without any of the same requirements met by the other candidates, reeks of shady deals and graft—the very sort of activities several council members campaigned against. Fortunately, his concerns did not fall on deaf ears and an interview session was approved, although some on the council were visibly irritated with the inherent delay of what was probably always inevitable to begin with.
This isn’t the first time that Mr. Hughes has had to steer the council toward “proper procedure” and it won’t likely be the last. Although he’s a lifelong resident of Holly, Hughes is one of the greenest council members politically and civically, and that quality is proving itself to being more of an asset than a liability. His outside-of-Holly experience and a foundation of ethics is a welcome balance to the intuition-driven autocracy of President Miller and the historical precedent of reticence, habit and groupthink on the council, and may prove to be the biggest sign of progress in village politics.
Perhaps President Miller should pay more attention to Mr. Hughes’s input on procedure, so that he won’t have to worry about forbidding the gallery from lecturing him on it anymore.