The Ottumwa Courier

January 23, 2013

Transit director applicants whittled down to five

Interview committee changed after elected official applied for position

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — The list of applicants for Ottumwa Transit’s director is narrowing, and a last-minute change in the interview committee will remove two councilmen.

City Attorney and Human Resources Manager Joni Keith said interviews have been lined up for the top five candidates for the position of director of Ottumwa Transit and 10-15 Transit.

She hopes to have a decision by sometime next week and a motion to the Ottumwa City Council by their first meeting in February.

“We narrowed it down to five, and then we have about seven backups if we decide those aren’t appropriate candidates,” Keith said.

Keith said she would not make the names of the final five candidates public at this point. She said in the two years she’s been in the position, she does not know of any other hiring processes for city officials where a list of candidates’ names was released to the public.

“I would just as soon not at this point in time,” she said.

Originally, approximately 30 people applied for the position from across the nation and from the area.

The selection committee that narrowed down the applicants to the final five included Keith, City Administrator Joe Helfenberger, Ottumwa Transit Advisory Board chairman Robert LaPoint and Councilmen Mitch Niner and Bob Meyers.

While Keith said the selection process remains the same, the committee conducting interviews has changed.

The interview committee will include Keith, Helfenberger, LaPoint and Bob Bourne, a retired Ames Transit System administrator, as well as a 10-15 Transit board member to be decided on Thursday. Niner and Meyers will not be involved in the interviews.

“We decided to do that so that there’s no appearance of impropriety,” Keith said. “We want it to be a fair process.”

There are no rules in place regarding an elected official applying for a city position, Keith said. If Councilman Jeremy Weller were to be chosen, he would have to resign as a city councilman.

In the end, the City Council has to approve the new Ottumwa Transit director based on the recommendation made by the committee conducting interviews.

Councilman J.R. Richards said since Weller is a councilman, “it really doesn’t bode well to have other council members on the selection committee.”

Richards said it would be best if no council members served on the selection committees.

“It’s got to be totally fair,” he said. “It can very easily look like the ‘good ol’ boy’ thing. I don’t want that to even appear to be the case.”

Richards had concerns that the public might think it was “an inside deal” if Weller were to be chosen.

“If one or two people think it, there’s going to be more than that,” he said. “None of us can be involved. It’s nobody’s fault, and Jeremy has every right to apply for that job. But we have to make sure we’re removed from the hiring process.”

Councilman Mitch Niner said it’s disappointing that he was removed from the interview committee.

“Ultimately, because Jeremy [Weller] applied, we had to spend taxpayer dollars hiring a consultant [Bourne] to do the hiring,” Niner said. “I don’t know what they were afraid of as far as removing us from that committee, because Jeremy is only one vote out of four. I don’t know what they were after.”

Niner said if he and Meyers were removed, Keith and Helfenberger should have removed themselves as well, “since council is the one that evaluates both those positions,” referring to their positions as city attorney and city administrator, respectively.

He also said he will possibly still show up at the interviews on Friday.

“They can’t legally keep me out of there,” he said. “I’m not going to participate. I don’t know what would have been wrong with me and Meyers sitting in the audience and not ask any questions.

“It’s tough for me to OK somebody if I can’t hear the conversation.”