McKillip Turns Down Kalispell City Manager Job

By Beacon Staff

Matt McKillip will not be Kalispell’s next city manager.

Mayor Pam Kennedy said Thursday the city and McKillip “have been unable to reach agreement on a contract,” after a discussion she had with him over the phone Wednesday evening.

McKillip confirmed over the phone Friday that another potential job closer to his home in Kokomo, Ind., combined with his desire for longer-term job security before moving his family to Montana, added up to him opting to turn down the job offer from Kalispell.

The negotiating stalemate occurred over McKillip’s wish for a longer contractual employment commitment than the three years the city was willing to offer.

“He was looking more for a five-year (commitment) or more,” Kennedy said. “He was looking for his next move to be a place that he could live for 10 years or better.”

“There is no guarantee like that in city government, of course,” she added.

The Kalispell City Council will hold a special session at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss what its next steps should be in seeking a new city manager. Kennedy said she hopes the council can offer an employment contract to one of the remaining four finalists for the city manager job as early as next week.

Meanwhile, Interim City Manager Myrt Webb has notified the council that he will be stepping down on July 6 from the position he has held for the last eight months, out of a need to spend more time with his family, Kennedy said. Other city department heads will fill in for the short term.

McKillip declined to offer specifics regarding the competing job offer he received, but said it was similar to the city manager job in Kalispell, though for less money and in a less scenic setting. The other offer would, however, also allow his family to stay in their home and not have to try to sell it amid a difficult housing market.

McKillip visited the Flathead with his wife and 11-month-old daughter last week, and they were impressed with the community, he said, but with a young family, he was trying to find a place to settle down for the next ten years or so and the job in Indiana offers more stability.

“If I could take this opportunity and plop it right down in the middle of Kalispell it would be 100 percent ideal,” McKillip added.

Political considerations also played a role. Kennedy said McKillip was aware that he was chosen by the council from its two final candidates on a narrow 5-4 vote. Given that this is an election year, with the potential to replace as many as five current council members, it was possible his support on the council could erode as quickly as November, depending on the outcomes of city elections.

“If you’ve been a city manager in this form of government, you are certainly aware that there are no long-term commitments,” Kennedy said. “I think that was a little surprising for Matt.”

Even in his former position as mayor of Kokomo, Ind., she added, McKillip was granted a four-year term to serve by voters. Kalispell offers a two- or three-year contract, which is then renewed annually, with the council reserving the right to terminate the city manager.

“It seemed like there was a higher probability that this one could become very short-term,” McKillip said. “It’s always something to consider.”

Other sticking points in the negotiations concerned the vehicle allowance, salary, and a stipulation requested by McKillip that his moving expenses back to Indiana could be covered, should he be terminated suddenly by the council. But Kennedy maintained these were all secondary considerations to the contract length, and negotiations never moved past that.

The initial offer the city council made to McKillip consisted 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. The city manager is also required to live within the city limits of Kalispell.

McKillip, who served as mayor of Kokomo from 2004-2007 before being defeated in the Republican primary, was chosen from among five finalists by the council after it conducted interviews and selected a candidate in a day-long process June 3. The council settled on two candidates, Jane Howington, currently an assistant city manager for operations of Dayton, Ohio, and McKillip. By a one-vote margin, the council decided on McKillip, with supporters arguing his dynamic style would inject fresh energy into the city, and help dig Kalispell out of its current budget dilemma.

Now, the council must find out if the remaining four finalists are still interested in the job.

“The council’s going to review our options,” Kennedy said. “We certainly hope that we do not have to begin the hiring process over again.”

The remaining candidates include Howington, Livingston City Manager Edwin Meece, Lewiston, Idaho City Manager John “Jay” Krauss and Joseph Frei, the former city administrator of Columbus, Neb.

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