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Think Again: Examining the hiring process for city leaders

In the last couple of months, Glendale City Manager Jim Starbird and City Atty. Scott Howard announced they are retiring. These positions are some of the top management positions in the city.

Since these announcements there has been a lot of public discussion evaluating the performance of these individuals with opinions across the spectrum.

In the case of the city attorney position, the City Council moved quickly to name the city attorney’s chief deputy as his replacement. Recently there have been public comments that the City Council was similarly moving quickly to possibly promote someone from within to replace Starbird.

While on the surface it may seem logical that a City Council would want to name replacements of key personnel quickly so as not to leave a gap in leadership, it’s more important that the right people make it into such critical positions.


The city manager is the chief executive officer of the city, leading approximately 1,200 employees and an overall budget exceeding $800 million. In the private sector, a company this size would conduct a search for the best possible CEO who has the experience to lead the company successfully.

The board of directors of public companies also usually treat such moments as opportunities to take a fresh look at what direction the company needs to go and the culture that needs to be instilled in the next chapter of the organization’s history.

It puzzles me that Glendale’s equivalent of a board of directors, the City Council, would not treat this issue with the same sensitivity and an eye toward the city’s future. I’ll leave it to others to dissect the past performance of the current individuals in these positions. As a citizen, I’m more interested in the process our elected leaders employ in determining the most qualified individuals for positions that play a key role in our collective future.

In the case of the city manager, a search process must take the time to determine the selection criteria for the candidate we need. The process must be fair, consider internal and external candidates, invite the participation of public stakeholders and, above all, be transparent.


Sometimes there may be qualified successors within an organization, but that should not prevent an objective search process that ensures we’re getting the best candidate. This way, even if we do choose an internal candidate, we know they are the best.

In the case of the city attorney replacement, the City Council missed an opportunity to examine how the office has performed and what we need for the future before making appointments. Starting with the city manager position, the City Council can put best practices into place as a new standard that key management positions must be required to have a full and transparent search process that ensures we get the best talent into the most important leadership positions.

As the third largest city in Los Angeles County, Glendale must raise the sophistication level instead of being run like what often feels like a “mom and pop store.” The city has great potential with a promising future, but requires bold leadership that starts with having the very best city manager.

We need a city manager who will set the right tone at the top from a values and ethics perspective, be financially responsible, bring all our citizens into a participatory governance process, be innovative and visionary and provide sound counsel to the city’s elected leadership.

The only way to ensure we have this solid leadership is to adopt a standard hiring process for the city’s top jobs. Anything less sells our city short. In this economy, where employers hold the cards, we should not be settling for anything but the top talent the market or organization has to offer. To achieve this requires a comprehensive, fair and transparent search process instead of opting for shortcuts.

There is too much riding on this decision to do otherwise.

ZANKU ARMENIAN is a Glendale resident and a corporate communications professional. He can be reached at