The next Village manager— Ideal qualities, priorities
- Published: April 18, 2019
This week, the four candidates for Yellow Springs Village manager are visiting the village for tours, interviews, meetings and to participate in a public forum.
Pete Bales, Elke Doom, Allyson Murray and Josue Salmeron are vying for the position due to the upcoming retirement of Village Manager Patti Bates in July. Council is expected to chose the next manager in executive session on Monday, April 15.
Ahead of the candidate visits, several of those who have participated in the process were asked by the News this week what they are personally looking for in the next Village manager, what the priorities for the manager might be and how the next manager can be effective in their role.
Qualities for an effective manager
Having “thick skin” and being a good listener were a few qualities that were mentioned repeatedly by those on Council and the Village manager search committee reached for comment this week on the personal qualities they were looking for in a manager.
Village manager search committee member Bettina Solas specified that she is looking for someone with with “an equally soft heart and thick skin.” She hopes for someone with a “healthy balance of warmth and friendliness along with a businesslike, motivated, forward-thinking attitude.” She also noted qualities such as diplomacy and patience.
“I’m looking for someone who understands Yellow Springs and the values we hold here and won’t compromise those values,” Solas added.
Jerry Sutton of the Village manager search committee said above all he is looking for self-confidence.
“I would like to see someone with enough self-confidence and confidence in their professional ability to engage,” he said.
Council President Brian Housh is hoping for someone who is an effective manager of Village staff, savvy at communicating Village activities to the public and successful at handling project management.
Council Vice President Marianne MacQueen wrote that she is looking for a manager that doesn’t have a personal agenda outside of serving the community. The ability to “stay centered in stressful situations” and being able to listen and respond to community needs are also essential traits.
“A mixture of being able to be assertive and at the same time be able to listen well and translate the desires of community, Council and staff into reasonable doable actions,” were ideal qualities, MacQueen wrote.
Council member Kineta Sanford wrote that she values a manager that would serve from a place of humility and would be able to be vulnerable, which she believes is a strength. She also would appreciate someone with “a lifestyle of continuous learning.”
For Karen Wintrow, also a member of the search committee, the personal qualities needed include: listening to citizens, staff and the community before making recommendations; “respecting the history and unique perspective” of the village; energy and ability to multi-task; “open-minded in considering alternative approaches to problem-solving” and being fiscally savvy.
Karen McKee, of the search committee, wrote that she is looking for someone with the ability to “resolve differing viewpoints on key issues that directly affect the livelihood of village residents.” She also noted the skills that current manager Bates brought to the job.
“Our current manager has set a very high bar for expertly managing the many challenges of guiding a small community,” McKee wrote.
Council member Lisa Kreeger is hoping for someone who has “thick skin” and a sense of humor, and who will be “invigorated by collaboration and new ideas.”
As her career as a manager comes to a close, Village Manager Patti Bates believes that the personal qualities that are most helpful are a thick skin, patience, compassion, having the ability to listen to those with whom you disagree, ongoing communication with the community and dedication to the job.
“You’re always on call,” Bates said. “That dedication is really important, and at the same time you have to set boundaries.”
Bates also suggested an analytical mind that helps “see past the fluff and get to the root issue.”
“If you don’t solve the root issue, you are just solving a symptom, and that’s not going to get you where you need to be,” Bates said.
Priorities for the next manager
Maintaining the Village’s infrastructure and working on the police-community relationship emerged as the most important priorities for those who weighed in this week. Affordable housing and economic development were also frequently mentioned.
Stokes sees fiscal responsibility and infrastructure improvement as two interrelated priorities for the next Village manager.
“One does not need to be an expert in water, electricity and sewage, but one should have a great appreciation for how the various utilities and funds are managed,” Stokes wrote in a message.
In addition to dealing with aging infrastructure and police-community relations, Wintrow wrote business and residential development and managing expectations are what she sees as priorities for the next Village manager.
“In my view, the ultimate challenge any manager in Yellow Springs faces is managing the expectations of a community whose needs and wants far surpass the capacity of a community of 3,800,” Wintrow wrote.
MacQueen suggested “as the top priorities” infrastructure, police-community relationship and balancing the delivery of services with affordability issues, which also involves housing and economic development, she wrote.
Sanford believes the new manager should continue to “strengthen our economy in ways that serve our community and our values,” along with “relationship building between the YSPD and citizens.” Sanford also mentioned the lack of housing options in the village, especially quality affordable housing.
“[Affordable housing] is an ongoing conversation that is only going to get bigger and that needs to be viewed holistically,” Sanford wrote.
Solas mentioned affordable housing and infrastructure as consistent issues for the local manager to focus on. She believes attracting businesses that align with local values and that offer a living wage is another priority, and, on the issue of the police-community relationship, that the new manager might work on how trust can be fostered between the police and citizens.
Kreeger noted “building trust and communication” between the YSPD, Village staff and community as a priority, along with a strong focus on infrastructure improvements and the budget. She also noted “thinking ‘outside the box’ for grants and collaborations that promote economic growth that supports economic / anti-racist inclusion.”
McKee sees, as a central issue for the new manager, the increased cost of living for “an aging population with less growth and diversity.” Planning for affordable housing and infrastructure development to sustain economic growth are essential, as is supporting local police to “provide a safe and welcoming community environment in YS,” she wrote.
From her perspective as current manager, Bates sees that the next manager will have to deal with two big issues. She echoed the issue of policing, specifically finding way to balance the needs in the police department with what the community wants.
“The traditional policing model doesn’t work anymore, and that’s anywhere, not just Yellow Springs,” Bates said. “The person who comes after me will have to manage that transition, and it won’t change over night.”
Bates added that the new manager will also face a major infrastructure upgrade concerning the water and wastewater systems. New EPA mandates are requiring the comprehensive upgrades and since the water system already carries heavy debt, other funding sources will be needed, Bates explained.
“The person who takes this position will have to think outside of the box to find solutions that don’t add any more debt and don’t increase user fees,” she said.
Role of the Village manager
The respective roles of the Village Manager and Council are spelled out in detail in the Village Charter. Under the Council-manager form of government, an elected council makes policy, while an appointed manager implements policy.
How do those involved in the manager search process view the role of the manager, and how can the manager be most effective in their role?
Effectively managing Village staff, implementing Council’s desires and recommending ideas for Council to consider were among the most important roles of the manager, according to those interviewed.
Kreeger believes it is critical that the manager and Council work together “in a spirit of open communication,” and looks forward to the opportunity to clarify their respective powers, outlined in the Village Charter, during the transition between managers.
Sanford believes it’s important with such an active Council that the manager recommends solutions to Council and is prepared to implement Council’s decisions, even if they diverge from his or her recommendation. Effectively managing Village staff is another critical skill of the manager, Sanford believes.
“I think that in order to be effective in that aspect of their role, they must be a good listener and be in-tuned to what the staff needs in order to continue to work effectively in our community,” Sanford wrote.
Also regarding recommendations, Solas responded that the manager should be able to offer “creative, clever, innovative solutions to complicated issues,” and the more options, the better.
“If the Village Manager can offer potential solutions or options that no one has come up with before but that could satisfy most of the Council, staff and citizenry, that would be ideal,” Solas wrote.
Housh hopes that the new manager continues to be “open and collaborative with community members” as well as to provide objective information to Council in order for them to make sound decisions on behalf of the community.
In the view of Wintrow, who has also been Council president, the manager “implements Council wishes that ultimately should be community wishes.” The manager also should be Council’s “most trusted advisor” and be respected by the community “so their input is actually considered during decision-making,” she wrote.
The manager should see themselves as a “partner” to Council, Stokes explained, and be there to “advise, inform and support” Council’s desires. At the same time, they are there to augment the expertise of Council members, Stokes responded.
“The manager does not need to agree 100 percent with what council wants, but should be 100 percent on board with trying to propose solutions that will satisfy Council,” Stokes wrote.
Bates said a manager should take direction from Council, research and recommend solutions and, ultimately, do whatever Council decides.
“As long as it’s not illegal, immoral or unethical, my job is to do what the majority of the five Council members tell me to do,” Bates said.
“Sometimes it’s uncomfortable,” Bates added. “But I think it works well.”