Choosing a City Manager

On June 9, Philip G. Sunderland announced that he plans to step down as Alexandria city manager. This apparently came as a shock to many citizens, but for many civic activists it was a long time coming. When you attempt to put a square peg into a round hole, it just doesn't work.

Sunderland performed well as the city attorney, but he had no qualifications to become city manager and should never have been named to that position. He had no formal training in public administration, and therefore he has been doing his training on the job for the past four years at our expense. His role in the Katelyn Frazier fiasco should have been grounds enough to terminate his contract.

I would hope that the City Council doesn't repeat its past mistake by arbitrarily naming a city manager without doing an intensive national search. Mark Jinks, the assistant city manager, is a well-qualified public administrator and should be considered in that search.

The council should immediately contact the International City/County Management Association to assist in identifying a number of candidates. Former mayor Frank Mann used this organization many years ago to name the first city manager.

In addition, Mayor William D. Euille (D) ought to set up a screening committee led by Mann to interview and sort out the candidates provided by the association. This committee should comprise five or six of the most highly qualified and credentialed public administrators in the city. Some of them could be individuals who have previously served on the City Council or in the General Assembly.

In addition, there are other citizens who possess advanced degrees in public administration and have a great deal of experience working in the various levels of government, whether they are local, county or federal.

The last step in naming a new city manager is for council members to interview the two or three candidates provided by the steering committee. They should state emphatically that their support of the new manager's opinions and recommendations will be contingent upon his ability to divest himself of any special-interest or patronage concerns.

The endgame is that we want a new city manager to hit the ground running. We want one who is capable of attending to the day-to-day operations of the city, yet one who is capable of ensuring that the goals and objectives of the city's vision are fully implemented. He or she should have sufficient stature and expertise to command the respect of both the residents and the business community.

Townsend A. "Van" Van Fleet