Residents meet finalists for Topeka city manager’s job at reception

All five finalists for Topeka’s city manager’s job are “pretty experienced” but young enough to effectively do the job, retired city official John Arnold said Friday.

 

“That’s good,” he added.

Arnold, who ended a long career in municipal administration by serving from 1998 to 2002 as Topeka’s chief administrative officer, was among those who took part Friday in a two-hour reception that gave residents a chance to meet the finalists for the vacant city manager’s job.

Arnold said he was pleased to see that the gathering enabled the public to meet the finalists in a casual manner, where they could chat comfortably about topics including their families.

The finalists are interim Topeka city manager Doug Gerber, who has been with the city since 2014; Jeffrey Dingman, deputy city administrator since 2011 for Fort Smith, Ark.; Jason Gage, Salina’s city manager since 2005; David Hales, city manager since 2008 for Bloomington, Ill.; and Brent Trout, city administrator since 2007 for Mason City, Iowa.

Each candidate was accompanied by his wife except for Dingman, whose wife couldn’t be present, said city human resources director Jacque Russell.

The finalists were interviewed separately earlier Friday by a “community panel” of Topeka residents and by a panel of city department heads, Russell said. City staff members also took finalists on a tour of the city — some on Thursday, others on Friday.

Those who met each finalist at Friday’s reception included Topekan Carol Christensen, who said she thought the event was “very worthwhile.”

Christensen was accompanied by her husband, John. She said she liked having a chance to visit first-hand with the people who might end up making important decisions for the city.

Carol Christensen also was among those who attended a forum held Wednesday evening at the Jayhawk Theatre featuring candidates for Topeka’s mayor’s office, she said.

But the person chosen as Topeka’s next city manager will probably have a greater effect on the lives of its residents than the next mayor will, Christensen said.

Mayor Larry Wolgast, who isn’t seeking re-election this year, said he and the nine city council members plan to go behind closed doors into executive session to conduct separate interviews with the five finalists when the city’s governing body holds a special meeting beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in Classroom C at the Law Enforcement Center, 320 S. Kansas Ave.

That body plans to remain in session until 6:30 p.m., and then decide whether to continue meeting, Wolgast said.

He said governing body members plan Saturday to narrow the list of finalists to two, whose names won’t immediately be revealed.

A representative from Keller, Texas-based Strategic Government Resources — the search firm helping Topeka find a city manager — will then contact the top two finalists and find out what they are looking for in a contract, Wolgast said.

Governing body members will receive that information, then decide how to proceed.

Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.

PowerPlayer

What happens next?

n Among candidates Doug Gerber, Jeffrey Dingman, Jason Gage, David Hales and Brent Trout, two ultimate finalists will emerge after additional closed-door interviews Saturday with the city council.

n The two finalists will have a chance to define what they expect in a job contract, as well as other standards for their employment.

n Topeka’s governing body will decide how to proceed.

 

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