Last week, writing in Isthmus, Tim Cooley's exit reflects ongoing struggle over mayoral control, Marc Eisen noted:
And his departure raises a concern that is increasingly heard around City Hall: Mayor Dave's decisive personnel moves have intimidated city staff and hurt their performance, while scaring away good applicants for top city jobs.
New top managers are now put on two years probation. This creates two major problems. First, many skilled leaders are not about to move from a stable position to an environment where they must spend two years waiting to see if they are accepted, and then three years later can be discharged. That is why there are so few qualified applicants in these tough economic times for vacancies at the department and division level. There may be multiple applications from unqualified applicants.
Secondly, a two year probation means the individual is chained and gagged at the mayor's side. There is no ability to freely express opinions to neighborhood groups, the press, or the general public.
The argument is made that it takes two years to see if the individual is qualified to prepare and administer budgets. As one who teaches public budgeting, let me note that is one of the easiest qualifications to research and vet.
Eisen got it right:
Begin with the long, arduous recruitment of a new planning chief. Multiple searches were conducted, finalists found and lost, and a headhunter hired to help. The mayor says the hiring took so long because he insisted on only interviewing exceptional candidates.
But this seems odd. Why wouldn't the best talent line up to work in a marvelous city like Madison, with its link to legendary planner John Nolen? Well, maybe the mayor would have had more exceptional finalists if the probationary clause were different.
"Who'd want to jeopardize a promising career in another city, uproot the family and move to Madison only to be out of a job in a couple of years based on the political whims of the mayor?" a skeptical city staffer asked.
I talked to one Milwaukee-area professional who considered applying for the planning job but didn't. Probation is common in top city jobs all over, he acknowledged, but Madison's two-year clause "sent a signal of 'Buyer beware!'"