Challenging time to find a manager
Greg Prothman might be called a government headhunter, but he has earned the more formal label: executive search professional specializing in services to municipalities.
Whatever the title, Prothman is helping the city of McMinnville find its third city manager in 55 years, as Kent Taylor heads toward year-end retirement after 28 years in that position.
There are some interesting challenges for this search.
First, there’s general recognition that Taylor, as they say, will be a hard act to follow. His combination of personal, professional and community skills have been woven into the fabric of city government, and anyone stepping in will need to mesh his or her management style with some of that fabric.
Another challenge, Prothman predicts, is the likelihood of a thin pool of highly qualified applicants. It doesn’t mean McMinnville won’t find the right person for the job, but unlike in recent years, the choice probably will come from a small number of semi-finalists.
Prothman Company of Issaquah, Wash., lists more than 200 government clients, most in Washington and Oregon but extending to other Western states. A former city manager himself, Prothman has conducted more than 300 executive searches for diverse positions in cities, counties and special districts.
Lately, however, his searches have begun to produce fewer qualified applicants. There isn’t much empirical data on the phenomenon, but Prothman recognizes social trends that most likely have created this bubble in recruitment efforts.
Baby Boomers headed into retirement are not seeking new positions, and many of their soon-to-be replacements are a few years away from having the experience employers seek for top management positions. Economic uncertainties make people less willing to leave existing jobs, and even home appraisals come into play when people can’t afford to sell houses carrying more debt than value.
In years past, cities like McMinnville found themselves with an abundance of top candidates for management jobs, but not in 2014. On the other hand, it represents a unique opportunity for some rising star to make an impression that might have gone unnoticed among a deep pool of experienced applicants.
Considering all that, the citizen committee working with Prothman wondered aloud this week if we shouldn’t ask Taylor for just a few more years. It was a short discussion when former Mayor Ed Gormley, who worked closely with Taylor for many years, said:
“Well, that’s not going to happen. Sylvia (Taylor) would have our heads.”
Jeb Bladine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-687-1223.