Merced County Times Newspaper
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Candidate decries process to hire city manager; mayor touts robust search

On the eve of Election Day this week, a candidate in Merced’s mayoral race questioned the process behind how local leaders are going about hiring a new city manager.

“The City Council is taking actions to fill the city manager’s position through a process that is a disservice to the citizens of Merced, that disrespects the new City Council that will replace this one in seven weeks, and that uses the council’s power because it can — not because it should,” declared Michael Belluomini during the public comment period at Monday night’s meeting.

The City of Merced posted the job opening for city manager on Oct. 23, and the application deadline was set for Nov. 4, an overall 10-day period. Interviews of candidates have been scheduled for next week.

Belluomini — a former City Council member and current mayoral candidate — said the process allows for a new city manager to be named less than two weeks before three new City Council members are sworn in, not including the mayoral position.

“The standard practice in Merced and elsewhere is to have an application period of two months or longer, not 10 days,” he told council members. “A statewide search is conducted for applicants and a professional executive management search firm is hired to find high quality applicants. Hiring the city manager is one of the most important decisions that the City Council makes.”

He added, “The council and city manager must work as a team, with a loyalty and spirit of appreciation that comes from being hired by that city council. The new City Council should select the new city manager.”

However, during an interview with the Times, Mayor Mike Murphy defended the hiring process of a new city manager.

Murphy pointed out that the recruitment search has been nationwide, and that as of Monday, the city had received 15 applications from prospects who live as far away as the East Coast.

“We are going to review each of the applications as a council, and then conduct interviews,” he said. “We think at the end of this process, we will come forward with a really strong candidate to lead the city manager’s office.”

Mayor Murphy also explained that current City Council members are mindful of two other very important city positions that can only be filled by a city manager. Those key, department head positions include Police Chief (currently being filled by interim Chief Tom Cavallero) and Fire Chief (Chief Billy Acorn will be leaving the post for a new position in Fresno in January.)

“We have a council that’s very experienced and that knows what it takes to have a good city manager in place,” Murphy said. “We will take all the time we need to make sure the process is done right. And if we find the right candidate, we are not going to miss an opportunity to be able to hire that person.”

Murphy added that three members of the current City Council, and perhaps a fourth, (if Matt Serratto is elected mayor) will still be serving on the dais after the results of the Nov. 3 election are confirmed.

“In terms of Mr. Belluomini showing up at the meeting on the eve of Election Night, and sort of going after the council … We certainly take in all of the feedback we get from constituents, but there’s certainly some campaign element to Mr. Belluomini’s timing and message.”

City leaders fired the former City Manager Steve Carrigan during a closed session back in July. The reason for the firing was not made public, but Carrigan’s job performance during the city’s State of Emergency status over the summer months was highly criticized by Mayor Murphy. City leaders promptly elevated the Assistant City Manager Stephanie Dietz to the interim city manager position.

“I am not disparaging acting city manager, Ms. Dietz,” Belluomini explained on Monday night. “She has experience and training that qualify her to apply for the job. I am criticizing the process that the council is taking, not Ms. Dietz.”

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