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Markus to helm new city manager search

By Lisa Brody

The Birmingham City Commission unanimously agreed to have current city manager Tom Markus perform a local, regional and national search for a new city manager at their meeting on Monday, May 9, as his contract with the city will expire in July 2023.

Both Markus and commissioners agreed to include internal candidates for consideration, notably assistant city manager Jana Ecker, who Markus emphasized is an excellent, and perhaps the best, candidate for the city.

At the meeting, the commission was presented with three different options for the selection of the next city manager, including to continue working with Ecker, to prepare her to assume Markus' duties at the end of his appointment on June 30, 2023; to issue a request for proposal (RFP) to hire a national search firm to conduct a national search for a new city manager; or to direct Markus to perform a local, regional and national search for a new city manager.

“When I was hired, initially I offered to come here for four to five years, thinking you would want someone to commit for that long a period of time,” Markus said. “There was then the accusation that I was demanding five years, and of course I wasn't, and I acceded to a much lower term, and got it down to two-and-a-half years, and it is fleeting away quickly.

“The discussion when we went to that shorter term was of me hiring an assistant – and that was advertised nationally,” he continued. “Like many processes nowadays, we ended up with an internal candidate that was clearly the best choice, and that person was appointed. The concept when I was brought back was perhaps I could train that person into the city manager's position – that was all by design. I didn't come up with that. It was the city commission at the time. Personally, I thought it was a really smart idea, knowing what I know, the dearth of really qualified candidates out there – you're going to search far and wide to find them. The community has its own culture. The advantage Jana has is that she understands this culture, which will take any person coming in from the outside a substantial amount of time just to understand, much less how we operate.”

“The likelihood that someone is going to come along who can do this job better than Jana, to me, is really slim,” said commissioner Clinton Baller. “I support this candidate.”

“I feel really strongly we have to go through a search. I think the public is going to want a formal process and I am comfortable asking our city manager, who has been here twice and seen what's happened in the interim, in his experience, to do the search,” said commissioner Elaine McLain.

Markus explained he could do the search in the same way as a national search firm. He noted there is a feeling that people would die to come to Birmingham. “They're dying to come here to be residents,” he pointed out. “You will have the challenge of some candidates who could even afford to live here based on the salary structure.”

Mayor Therese Longe said she has been involved in several national searches professionally, “and I think you've glossed over how much work for the city and commission a manager option is. Once one of these outside search firms come in, they spend an enormous amount of time conducting interviews with city staff and commissioners to learn who you are, what do you want, and what your values are.
I like Ms. Ecker and have full faith in her. I also agree with commissioner McLain that the community would expect some process, and having gone through the process would give Ms. Ecker full credibility in the community to govern and to manage, which is important.”

Commissioners approved the option have Markus begin a search in the beginning of 2023, 6-0 with commissioner Brad Host absent.

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