The public must have a strong say in the selection of T or C’s city manager

by Diana Tittle | February 24, 2021
5 min read
Source: Association of Volunteer Managers

The search for the individual who will replace Morris Madrid as Truth or Consequences’s city manager is underway. Recruitment ads have been placed, and the deadline for applications set for March 12. But it is not too late for the city commission to ensure that the best possible candidate is chosen.

In fact, it’s essential the commission makes the right choice this time. T or C is crying out for effective, budget-conscious and service-oriented management that is responsive to constituent needs and concerns. There is no time to waste in finding an experienced leader who can assemble and inspire a competent management team and, as a first order of business, formulate a comprehensive plan to address T or C’s problems and capitalize on its assets.

State law vests the hiring decision in the city commission. The revolving door of inept, disengaged and autocratic city managers the town has endured in recent history shows us that the commissioners are poor judges of character and competence.

The Sun calls for the commission to entrust the search to qualified members of the public. We’ll define what we mean by qualified in a moment.

First, let us address the objection that the public can’t handle such an awesome responsibility. Conducting an executive search is not rocket science. It’s more like baking a cake: the recipe for success is already known. It just takes a firm commitment to following agreed upon procedures. No shorting on ingredients, like an intensive recruitment effort; no dispensing with important steps, like thorough vetting and background checks.

The internet abounds with tried-and-true guidance from executive search firms and human resources departments. So, we won’t address all the components of a successful executive search, other than to point prospective search committee members to this online tutorial that a Google search uncovered. Although written for a not-for-profit board of director charged with recruiting an executive director, it outlines the basics of organizing and carrying out an effective search from start to finish.

This editorial will focus instead on what will be needed to get the city manager search off to a good start.

The first step is for the commission to name a strong chair of the search committee. The ideal chairperson, states the abovementioned tutorial offered by the Bridgespan Group, a Boston firm specializing in not-for-profit management consulting,

will be a strong leader, a consensus builder, an effective communicator, and a person who has the time and dedication to see the search through to completion. Leadership skills are crucial. The search chair will need to keep the committee focused throughout the search process, and to build consensus among committee members. It is also important for the search chair to lead the group to make decisions in situations when full consensus isn’t possible.

The Sun recommends that the commission recruit a person with deep knowledge of government administration to serve as chair on a volunteer basis. While it may not be necessary for the chair to live outside Sierra County, it is essential that the chair not be encumbered with even the appearance of a conflict of interest regarding who is selected as city manager.

We would try to recruit someone like Janet Porter Carrejo, who was Sierra County manager from 2005-2013. In our experience, Porter Carrejo was smart, always prepared and a straight shooter who recognized that citizens sat atop the county’s organizational structure. “You see this paperclip,” she was fond of saying to visitors to her office. “It belongs to the public.”

Whoever is enlisted to chair the search committee, the Sun calls upon that person to ensure robust public participation in the vetting and selection processes. This can be accomplished in two meaningful ways: through selecting qualified T or C residents to serve on the search committee and soliciting input from the general public.

The size of an effective search committee is generally agreed to be five to seven members. The Sun recommends the creation of a committee of five, comprised of the chair and four residents of Truth or Consequences.

The commission should immediately and actively solicit applications from the members of the public who wish to serve on the search committee. After reviewing them, the search committee chair should empanel four citizens who represent the town’s diversity and various stakeholder groups AND who are qualified to judge job candidates because of their own backgrounds in finance, administration, human resources, engineering, project management and the like.

A diverse search committee will bring differing expertise and experiences to bear on such important search committee responsibilities as reaffirming the city manager’s job description (which is prescribed by law), identifying all the qualifications needed to fulfill the job, assessing candidate applications, interviewing and vetting a short list of candidates, and narrowing the list to two candidates to be presented to the commission for a final vote. The committee’s diverse points of view will help to ensure that individual bias does not distort decision making. All members of the committee will have an equal vote.

When a short list of candidates has been identified, the search committee should hold a virtual workshop to engage the public in the candidates’ vetting. In addition to the committee’s private interviews with the candidates, the workshop will provide an opportunity for residents to ask questions and take the measure of each applicant. If a candidate is unwilling to be quizzed in public by her potential constituents, she is not the right person for the job.

The search committee must make a special effort to ensure that the workshop is well-publicized and -attended. All committee members will be required to be present and to be active listeners. At the end of the workshop, the candidates should be excused, and the attendees enabled to indicate the preferences by rank voting. If the short list consists, for example, of three candidates, the attendees would be asked to indicate their first, second and third choices. The committee should work with the city clerk to establish procedures for conveying, recording and tallying these votes.

The ranked vote will give the search committee another key metric for narrowing the short list to two candidates to go before the city commission. The commission should conduct its final interviews and its hiring deliberations in public. The willingness to take constituents’ opinions into serious consideration at every step of the search will spare the commission from hiring an individual who is not inclined or able to meet the community’s stated expectations. A sincere desire to serve the public and a demonstrated ability to make government responsive to the needs of everyday citizens aren’t the only qualifications for the city manager’s job, but they are important ones.

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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

2 thoughts on “The public must have a strong say in the selection of T or C’s city manager”

  1. I absolutely agree. The city commission should appoint a committee to review resumes and be a part of the final interviews. Public participation is what a democracy is all about. In a small city like ours, it would be a very easy process to find people who have experience in government and/or other organizations to help the commission make this decision. One obvious benefit to this would be that the commission itself would not have to shoulder the blame alone if the next city manager screws up!

  2. I brought this up as part of public comment during today’s city Commission meeting (2-24-2021). However, as I choose to have the city clerk read my comments (as that is the only way they will go into the minutes), that part of my remarks were not read aloud as the allotted three minutes for comment ran out. One of the commissioners responded by saying that selecting a manager was the commissioners’ job and assistance was not needed.

    Personally, I feel there should be an advisory board of residents to at least assist in the selection process for our next city manager.

    I am sure there are several other residents that have also had experience in hiring for upper-level management positions that would be happy to assist in the process. It would also go along way to letting the residents feel that they are being listened to and are part of the city’s decisions that directly impact them.

    I guess we will see….

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