In dramatic fashion, the City Council voted to fire six department directors in June, but more than four months later, the city has yet to fill any of these positions.
City Manager Sharon Caballero said the slowness in hiring new people is purposeful because the city wants to take advantage of vacancy savings in a difficult budget year.
But we wonder if there is some cost to keeping these positions open for so long. In fact, it may be more costly to let these vacancies remain because of the instability associated with keeping these positions in flux. When Mayor Tony Marquez took office in March, he announced an aggressive agenda to make this community a better place to live.
But the mayor needs people to carry out his goals. To be sure, the six departments — city clerk, finance, fire, recreation, public works and housing — have interim directors. But it’s hard for the mayor to advance his agenda when it appears as if few in the leadership are in there for the long run. Additionally, most of the interim directors come from the ranks of city employees, and when they’re taking charge of their entire departments, their former jobs are unfilled and some things are probably not being done.
The city reports that it has already conducted some searches and that it has interviewed candidates. But in a couple of cases, officials have decided to reopen their searches. They said they weren’t satisfied with the experience of the applicants. What’s the problem? Is the city not attracting qualified candidates?
It’s possible that many are afraid to work for the city because of the historic lack of job security in the top-level positions. As happened this year, mayors have been known to call for mass firings before. An exception to that trend is Mayor Henry Sanchez, who was at the helm for much of this decade. However, during his reign, the City Council asserted its power and was known to pressure department directors out of their positions.
With these challenges, the city needs to conduct creative searches to fill the positions with the most qualified people. In our view, the city should undertake this task as soon as possible — for the good of the community.