UPDATE: Two Remaining Candidates for Kalispell City Manager

By Beacon Staff

UPDATE: Kalispell issued a press release Friday afternoon that one of its three finalists for the open city manager job has dropped out of the running. David Johnston from Rantoul, Illinois contacted Interim City Manager Myrt Webb and let him know he is considering a position elsewhere. The two remaining candidates will still be arriving in Kalispell Thursday, March 19 for a public reception that evening at 6:00 p.m. at the Central School Museum. The following Friday, the city council will conduct interviews with the candidates. The Beacon will cover the interviews.

Check out my original story, with analysis of what the new Kalispell city manager faces, below.

Kalispell announced Thursday that it has chosen three finalists for its vacant city manager position. These three candidates – David Johnston of Rantoul, Illinois, John “Jay” Krauss of Lewiston, Idaho, and Robert Stockwell of Riverton, Utah – will be in Kalispell next week for a public reception March 19 at the Central School Museum. The following day, the candidates will tour the city with Interim City Manager Myrt Webb, and then conduct formal interviews with the Kalispell City Council in the afternoon (at which the media, including the Beacon, will be present). In the discussion over the new city manager at Monday night’s council meeting, Mayor Pam Kennedy indicated the council would make its decision promptly – so the winner could be chosen by the end of next week.

The city council abruptly fired previous city manager Jim Patrick in October, and declined to give specifics on the reasons.

“It was time to reach out and have someone else be city manager,” Mayor Pam Kennedy said at the time.

Since then, Webb has taken over as city manager, and perhaps because of the temporary nature of his position, has managed to tackle some of Kalispell’s toughest issues, free from political considerations. Council recently passed transportation impact fees, and Webb has repeatedly spoken hard truths to the council regarding the dismal state of the budget, which for too long relied year-to-year on increasing revenues from new construction. When the construction boom and economy slumped last year, Kalispell confronted a serious budget crunch that resulted in layoffs and cutbacks of city services.

All of which leaves a very different Kalispell for any new city manager to oversee. The business community, which stridently opposed the adoption of transportation impact fees, is still smarting over Monday night’s vote, and some have indicated legal action by the development community challenging the validity of the new fees could be in the works. On top of that, Kalispell’s budget remains spare, but with a stable outlook for the next year – however its cash reserves are perilously low, projected to be less than $200,000 by the end of the current fiscal year June 30. Webb has said a city Kalispell’s size should have reserves of between $1 million and $1.5 million. A single event, from a flood to a fire to a prolonged police standoff could easily wipe out what little cash cushion the city has.

And there are indications that the nearly constant annexation and approval of new development over which the city council has presided in recent years has come to an end. A new city manager will be running a Kalispell focused on riding out the current recession, and likely looking inward, trying to maintain and improve what’s inside the city’s boundaries in the near future. What’s clear is that a new city manager will arrive in Kalispell at a crucial juncture of the city’s life. Let’s hope the council understands the gravity of their selection of city manager, and will make the right choice.

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