Scene in Passing: Hiring too quickly can net a poor choice

The man some people call “the abominable ‘no’ man” in city government said yes twice as he called for moving with speed to hire a city manager even as Larry Werner’s tenure winds down.

“Is the replacement of the city manager time-sensitive?” said Supervisor Jim Shirk, obviously a rhetorical question in a post found on the Internet last week. “Is there a sense of urgency?

“YES & YES,” he replied to himself and his readers, upper-casing his opinion. “I believe it is very critical that the city start the process today.”

Shirk, still in his first year on the board, has cast negative votes many times on issues after asking scads of questions that slowed deliberations. His thoroughness during deliberations on such occasions speaks well for his tendency toward diligence at trying to understand things that often are complex even to government observers and participants with years of experience.

Shirk’s decisions to cast multiple no votes, particularly on money issues, may prove a two-edged sword for him if he has long-term political ambitions. Many a politico went down in flames over the years by saying no continually to various constituencies. But let’s presume it is due to a heartfelt view on his part that government spends too much, so he wants to hold the line on spending, taxation and bad policy generally.

His “YES & YES” shout out for speed now seems odd unless there is some unstated agenda. It’s on a decision that actually demands much more deliberation than most the board faces.

The next city manager must be a strong executive. A rush to fill the gap could backfire. Instructive is the fact that an applicant reaching the interview stage for Carson City’s library directorship had resigned her last post after an investigation into expenses incurred in California. Every serious applicant must be vetted intensively for any top executive position, city manager candidates more than most.

If a sense of urgency led to a poor hire of the man or woman to run the city, it could wreak havoc. Carson City is a $100 million operation employing more than 500 people; it’s not a business, but that size rivals many small-cap corporations. Cutting days or even weeks in the hiring process isn’t worth years of the city heading off in the wrong direction. Speed and comfort aren’t the goals; competency is.

Make no mistake, the city manager runs the city as a superintendent runs a school system, a president runs a country and a Fed chief runs a central bank. In choosing such people, haste makes waste.

As H.L. Mencken, columnist and 20th century Baltimore sage, once wrote, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment