TAKOMA PARK — The Takoma Park City Council is considering amending its charter to change how Council members interact with the city manager during the hiring and appointment process.
“We wanted to make sure that after we went through our process for the police chief that we revisited the language in our charter regarding how the Council may provide input to hiring decisions by the city manager,” Mayor Kate Stewart said during the meeting.
The proposed changes would allow the city manager to consult the City Council on candidates’ qualifications during the hiring process. The City Council or individual Council members would also be allowed to provide limited input. A variation of the amendment would also require the city manager to outline the requested input in writing.
Under the present language, the city’s charter allows the City Council to hire or fire the city manager but delegates the city manager to make employment decisions for all other positions within the city government. The language does not address consultations or input from the City Council or individual Council members.
City attorney Kenneth Sigman explained that the current language could be interpreted to prohibit the City Council or individual City Council members from being involved in the hiring process before adding: “I don’t think that’s the correct reading but that’s possible to read it that way.”
Suzanne Ludlow, who currently serves as city manager, explained that the current language could also be interpreted to prohibit her from consulting individual Council members about qualifications on potential candidates.
Ludlow explained that she should be able to “bounce ideas” when considering candidates for various positions but added that the city manager should make the final decision. She also said she believed allowing Council inputs only for certain positions, such as the police chief, would go down a “slippery slope.”
Council member Terry Seamans (Ward 4) added that he would be open to having Council involvement above a specified employee level but expressed concern that future city managers could evade the Council during major hiring decisions.
“I wouldn’t want to see the Council being involved in giving opinions about every position in the city,” Seamens said. “I want to see us be able to use a process and not just allow it and make sure a city manager can’t say ‘well I don’t want to know what they’re thinking so I’m not going to request it.’”
“I think we need language in here that makes it just a little tighter,” he added.
Council member Talisha Searcy (Ward 6) expressed concern about City Council involvement in the termination and removal process.
“We want to have the discretion to be able to provide insights of what we deem is important in terms of characteristics and attributes … should you or any other city manager feel the need to engage the City Council in way that goes beyond what they may decide is appropriate then you would have the opportunity to seek out that counsel.”
As of Jan. 24, the Council has not set a date to vote on the proposed amendment.