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Our opinion: Involve public in manager search

City Council members spoke passionately in June about the importance of finding the best person to be Warren’s next city manager.

Nancy Freenock, who has been the city manager since 2012, is retiring in August. City officials held a special meeting in June to discuss how to move forward, though the discussion focused mainly on the $25,000 price tag to hire a search firm. Whoever that search firm ends up being, we hope the hiring process for the next city manager involves the public in a meaningful way.

The city manager holds tremendous power in city government — serving as head of operations for city functions and making policies out of City Council members’ ideas. And, the manager takes the lead on developing the city budget each year.

“I think that this, along with budgeting, is the most important thing city council does,” John Wortman said.

We couldn’t agree more. And while the council acts on behalf of city residents when it hires the next city manager, involving the public in the hiring process is important, in our opinion. Pennsylvania law exempts hiring decisions from the Open Meetings Law, and many candidates may say they don’t want to apply for the position unless a closed process is used.

But there are other ways to involve the public that don’t involve open interviews. Groups representing business owners, city employees and taxpayers could be formed to serve on interview panels, even if those interviews are held behind closed doors. And it would obviously be important for finalists to come to Warren, walk around, talk to people and get a feel for the city before they take the job.

The last thing anyone should want is to delegate such an important function of city government to a search firm only to find out the recommended candidate is a bad fit for Warren. One way to keep that from happening is to have the public be involved.

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