After nearly 11 hours of interviews and deliberation, the Kalispell City Council offered the open city manager position to Matt McKillip Wednesday.
McKillip, a former Republican mayor and manager of Kokomo, Ind., said he needed to consult with his wife before taking the offer, but hoped to be able to accept or decline some time in the next week.
“I’m just very humbled and very pleased that you have the confidence in my abilities to come in and help take Kalispell to the next level,” he told the council.
With input from search committee members who spoke with the five candidates at a Tuesday night public reception, the council eventually narrowed the selection down to two finalists: McKillip and Jane Howington, currently an assistant city manager for operations of Dayton, Ohio. Mayor Pam Kennedy cast the tie-breaking vote for McKillip, along with council members Tim Kluesner, Bob Hafferman, Jim Atkinson and Wayne Saverud.
The tight vote, the council agreed, was the result of having to choose between two candidates who were both qualified, but differed vastly in style and experience. Howington brought an extensive background working in city administration, in both large cities like Dayton, and smaller communities like Oxford, Ohio, where she served as city manager for seven years. With masters’ degrees in urban planning as well as public administration, Howington was praised by several council members for her “quiet strength” and “quiet intelligence.”
McKillip, on the other hand, has no previous experience as strictly a city manager. Instead, he spent much of his career in the private sector as an executive for Proctor & Gamble and running his own high-tech consulting firm. In 2004, he was elected mayor and manager of Kokomo, a central Indiana industrial city with a population of roughly 46,000. There he served one four-year term before being defeated in the Republican primary in May 2007, according to reports in the Kokomo Tribune.
But in his interview, McKillip drew heavily on his experience solving a budget shortfall as mayor of Kokomo – experience that seemed to impress council members who made it clear that the new city manager’s top priority must be to restore balance to Kalispell’s budget and begin to build up its dangerously low cash reserve.
McKillip also said he wanted to take on additional responsibility for economic development, which appealed to city council members given that Kalispell’s current economic development director, Kellie Danielson, recently tendered her resignation.
Revitalizing downtown Kalispell would rank among McKillip’s top priorities, he said, along with taking more control over the city’s growth from developers.
“You’re sitting on a jewel in your downtown,” McKillip told the council. “Through public-private partnerships, we can take that jewel and polish it up.”
But in deliberations at the end of the day, some council members expressed concern over whether McKillip could transition from his previous experience as the top elected official in a city government, to one working strictly as a city manager, serving under the council.
“I think Matt is more qualified but I think he’d be more problematic,” Councilman Hank Olson, who voted for Howington, said during the debate. “If he plays the game you couldn’t hire a better guy, I’m concerned about him playing the game.”
Those in favor of McKillip, however, argued that his communicative, dynamic style could be just what Kalispell needs to confront some of the budget problems with which it has struggled in recent years.
“I think (Howington)’s got a quiet strength but I’m looking for a noisier strength,” Atkinson said.
In an interview after receiving the offer, McKillip said he would view the city manager-council relationship in Kalispell similar to that of a chief executive officer answering to a board.
“The directors that I take direction from would be no different than the corporate world,” he said.
The initial offer Kennedy made to McKillip consists of a $100,000 annual salary as part of a three-year contract, a severance package of three months pay, use of a city car with fuel included, health insurance, 15 days vacation, up to $10,000 in moving expenses and a 7 percent contribution to a retirement plan that is based on what other city employees receive. McKillip would also be required to live within the city limits of Kalispell.
He has a wife Heather, and an 11-month-old daughter Sarah.
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