Moving swiftly to replace the city’s outgoing city manager, Ventura City Council members Monday will consider proposals from half a dozen executive search firms that want to conduct the hunt.
City Manager John Baker, who announced his departure plans on Monday, is taking a strong role in organizing the hunt for a successor and has already begun the process of finding the right search firm.
The council will ultimately decide who to hire as the city’s most powerful, highest paid administrator. But as he has done for the past 13 years, Baker is guiding the politicians along the way.
“We said, ‘What do you recommend we do next?’ ” said Councilman Steve Bennett, recalling the reaction of the stunned seven-member council upon learning in closed session last Monday that Baker plans to leave the city on July 1. “And he said, ‘Hire an executive search firm.’ ”
And what, Bennett asks, could be more natural than to put Baker in charge of that process as well?
“He’s the only guy who’s been through the process from the other end,” he said. “I think the council will actually control this, but it’s sort of like, to get some of the procedural legwork done, you ask the city manager to do that for you.”
Baker says the task is actually relatively simple.
“You get flyers from (the placement firms) all the time,” he said. “You know who’s in the business. There aren’t a lot of them.”
He refuses to say what traits council members should look for in their next city manager, but he plans to advise them Monday on what kind of time frame they might be looking at.
“Three months, minimum,” he said, adding that in the interim, council members could temporarily promote a division manager to the post, or bring in retired city managers who now work as professional temps.
As for his permanent replacement, he has some idea where the council might locate that person.
“I told them, ‘You can go as broad as you want, but I think your primary market is California,’ ” he said. “People have a tendency to move within the state, because then they have a leg up on everybody else. They know the laws, the rules, the regulations.”
Baker left a city administration job in Oakland to take the city manager’s position in Ventura in 1981. In July, he will go into the consulting business with a former colleague from Oakland, who now lives in Cincinnati. The two men plan to remain in their separate cities.
Having Baker in town, however, is not the same thing as having him at the helm of the city’s ship, council members said. “It’s going to be chaos,” predicted Councilman Gary Tuttle, who has not worked with any other city manager.
Tuttle said the loss of Baker--whom he described as a “strong, central figure"--will create a power vacuum that some ambitious council members will rush to fill.
Others on the council, however, are more optimistic.
“In the business of city administration, change is inevitable,” said Mayor Tom Buford. “I think John’s done a great job, and I hope whoever follows him will too.”