“This has been a good process,” Mayor Bill Hereford said after Thursday night’s council work session.
Hereford has talked about transparency in city government since taking office almost four years ago.
“The process was my responsibility, and I carried it out,” he said.
At Thursday’s work session, Hereford told council members he would ask them to amend an ordinance the council passed last year, which established the city manager’s job and set the salary for the new position.
The council set the salary range for the new city manager position at $52,394-$103,406 during its October 2011 meeting.
Hereford said the council must increase the city manager salary to $105,000 for the candidate he is expected to negotiate a contract with.
“It’s a small increase,” Hereford told the council.
He said he would also ask the council Monday night for the authority to negotiate a contract with the applicant.
Both the mayor and council refused to identify the candidate, saying the person is currently employed elsewhere.
Councilman Donnie Todd said the applicant would not have applied for the job if his or her name was made public.
He said Pell City residents elected the mayor and council to make decisions for them, including the hiring of a city manager.
“I don’t think it should be a public process,” Todd said.
He said it is hard to get people to apply for city jobs if their names are made public.
“This is almost always said,” said Dennis Bailey, general counsel for the Alabama Press Association.
The mayor and council members said they did not violate the open meetings law, which requires public notice of meetings if there is a quorum of the council.
City officials said there was no quorum.
“We made sure of that,” Councilwoman Dot Wood said.
She said the council met with the city manager candidate in smaller groups, and city officials said they were not legally required to notify the public of the interview because there was not a quorum of the council.
With previous vacant department head positions — the building inspector, the city engineer and the fire chief — the mayor and council interviewed all candidates publicly in the council chamber at City Hall. The public was invited to attend all interviews.
Wood said she met the city manager candidate in the conference room at City Hall. She said Councilmen James McGowan and Greg Gossett were also present. The mayor was not.
Wood justified her actions by saying, “We took flack” when the council interviewed candidates and their names were made public.
She said one candidate who applied for a city position almost lost their job.
“I was trying to protect the person who applied for the job,” she said. “The reason we did this was to protect him. That’s all this is about. We are not trying to hide this from the public. That was not our intent.”
Todd said he interviewed the candidate with Councilman Donnie Guinn.
Bailey said the actions of the Pell City mayor and council was what the APA contends as serial meetings, so officials can avoid conducting public business in public.
“This was not the intent of the Open Meetings Act,” Bailey said. “This flies in the face of the Open Meetings Act.”
He said the council could hire a city manager, who is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city, without any public scrutiny.
“They will hire someone who has not been interviewed in public,” Bailey said. “By then, it is too late for the public to do anything. The public is just going to have to take it.”
Bailey said the APA currently has a case pending before the Alabama Supreme Court on the issue of whether these types of meetings are illegal.
“This is certainly are not in the spirit of the Open Meetings Act,” he said.
Friday morning, The Daily Home requested all resumés and applications for city manager candidates who were interviewed by the mayor and council.
Hereford said Friday that the council only recently interviewed one city manager candidate.
Bailey said both the candidate’s application and resumé are public records, and the public should have immediate access to these documents.
A city official said either the mayor or acting city clerk must approve all records requests. The request was given to Hereford on Friday.
Hereford said late Friday that he had some “right to privacy” concerns about the city providing the documents requested by The Daily Home Friday morning.
“I have referred this matter to our city attorney for his opinion,” he said late Friday.
In January, city officials released all names, resumés and applications of candidates who applied for the city manager’s job and who were interviewed or screened via telephone conference by the mayor and council. The public was notified prior to the January interviews by the local media, and the interviews were held in the conference room of City Hall.
Contact David Atchison at firstname.lastname@example.org.