Sunset Hills aldermen speed up process to hire first-ever city administrator

Mark Furrer

Mark Furrer

By Gloria Lloyd

Sunset Hills aldermen don’t want to wait until after the April 5 election to hire the city’s first city administrator, but Mayor Mark Furrer beat them to posting the position, even with no job description.

The Board of Aldermen recently voted unanimously to withdraw a job advertisement for city administrator that Furrer posted Dec. 31 to the Missouri Municipal League website without the board’s knowledge. City employees only learned of the ad’s existence when they began fielding calls asking about the position’s salary and benefits, interim City Hall manager Robert Heacock told the board.

At the Jan. 12 meeting, city officials were confused all around — and some were left literally shaking their heads — about how and why Furrer posted the position without asking them, and under what authority. Due to a back injury, the mayor did not attend the meeting.

“How did the mayor just go ahead and make the decision he was going to post the job?” asked Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau, but no one had a ready answer.

Furrer did not respond to a request for comment.

In a Dec. 21 email, Furrer warned aldermen that he would go ahead and hire the city administrator himself because the board had let the process “plod along too long.” After months of discussion, the board unanimously voted Dec. 8 to switch to a city administrator form of government for the first time in the city’s history.

Furrer’s ad specified no salary range and directed applicants to send their resumes to his city email address or mail them to him at City Hall. In their vote to pull the ad, aldermen asked Heacock to retrieve the resumes from Furrer and contact applicants to let them know the city is pausing the process but will keep their resumes for when the position is officially open.

Furrer’s posting led Ward 4 Alderman Donna Ernst to ask City Attorney Robert E. Jones if the mayor could overturn everything aldermen had already approved in regard to the city administrator. The mayor would not have that power, Jones said.

When Furrer took the witness stand last month at his jury trial on felony charges of assault and property damage for a 2014 incident with a bicyclist, his attorney Tom Magee asked how much power the mayor has, including over hiring and firing. Furrer responded that he has “virtually none.”

“You’re sort of just the guy who holds the meeting,” Furrer testified. “The eight board members basically run the city.”

That trial ended in a mistrial just after Furrer testified, and his retrial begins Feb. 22.

Aldermen planned to discuss the job description and other first steps to hiring the city administrator at a work session Tuesday night — after the Call went to press.

Filing for the April 5 election ended last week with five residents signed up for the mayoral race, including Ward 4 Alderman Pat Fribis and former Mayor Bill Nolan. Furrer testified at his trial that he will not run again. Candidates prefer knowing who a city’s mayor will be since they serve at the pleasure of the mayor and aldermen, Heacock noted, so he recommends that they hold off on hiring until late April.

But the rest of the board agreed with Gau that they want to quickly move forward despite the impending election.

They still want a formal process, however, in contrast to Furrer’s ad.

“The issue I have with that process is, well, there is no process,” Gau said.

To move the process along, aldermen unanimously voted to adopt Heacock’s 12-step hiring guidelines as a framework, with the caveat that none of the suggestions are final.

Ward 3 Alderman Keith Kostial initially objected, however, because he disagrees with some of the guidelines.

The steps include posting the job on local, state and national websites of city administrators’ organizations and then making a first cut of those who aren’t qualified, video or in-person interviews of the second cut and group interviews and tours of the city with the finalists.

“I think we are putting ourselves in a box,” Kostial said of following all of Heacock’s suggestions.