Topeka governing body needs more time to evaluate city manager finalists

Topeka’s governing body was seeking late Saturday to determine when it could schedule another special meeting this coming week to continue the process, Mayor Larry Wolgast, pictured, said. (File photograph/The Capital-Journal)

Topeka’s governing body needs more time to evaluate the five finalists for the vacant city manager’s position.

 

That body took no action Saturday after spending nearly 12 1/2 hours interviewing the five and discussing their qualifications.

The governing body was seeking late Saturday to determine when it could schedule another special meeting this week to continue the process, said Mayor Larry Wolgast.

Doug Gerber, the former deputy city manager, has been interim city manager since former city manager Jim Colson resigned last October to return home to Arizona.

The city received applicants from 28 candidates for the city manager’s job, and governing body members have narrowed that field down to five finalists, according to Wolgast.

Those are 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.

All 10 members of the governing body, which consists of Wolgast and the nine city council members, were present for Saturday’s session.

Also taking part were Jacque Russell, the city’s human resources director, and Doug Thomas, senior vice president for recruitment for Strategic Government Resources, the Keller, Texas-based search firm that’s helping Topeka find a city manager.

Governing body members spent 90 minutes Saturday speaking separately with each candidate, Wolgast said.

“We had excellent ‘give and take’ with the candidates,” he said.

That body also discussed input it received from panels of city government department heads and Topeka citizens who met separately with the candidates Friday, and residents who met with the finalists that day at a public reception, said Councilwoman Karen Hiller.

The governing body met beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday in a classroom at Topeka police headquarters, where members initially voted to go behind closed doors into executive session for 11 hours, Wolgast said.

For the next 11 hours, he said, governing body members left that classroom only while taking breaks. They were also served lunch in that room.

After ending the first executive session at 6:30 p.m., governing body members voted three times to hold separate, shorter executive sessions.

City attorney Lisa Robertson and city clerk Brenda Younger were allowed to take part in the last of those executive sessions, which took 15 minutes.

Saturday’s meeting was then adjourned at 7:58 p.m., Younger said.

Wolgast suggested governing body members were acting appropriately by proceeding carefully in choosing a city manager, which he said is one of the most important decisions that body makes.

Though no action was taken, Wolgast said Saturday’s discussions went well.

“I’m amazed how well we’re doing after spending this much time in the same room,” he said.

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

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