Whitefish Reopens City Manager Position After Top Choice Drops Out

Council returns to drawing board after unanimous pick turns down offer

By Tristan Scott
Whitefish City Hall. Beacon File Photo

The Whitefish City Council will re-advertise its city manager position after the top pick for the next chief administrative officer declined the offer.

A week ago, Whitefish Mayor John Muhlfeld and the city council unanimously selected Chuck Winn among four finalists and offered him the position of chief administrative officer. However, according to city officials, after several days of discussion, Winn declined the offer in order to remain in Bozeman, where he serves as the assistant city manager.

Muhlfeld and the city council met in an executive session on Sept. 30 and unanimously agreed to re-advertise the position rather than give further consideration to one of the remaining two candidates, Kim Park and Edwin Meece.

The mayor and council members also considered returning to the applicant pool to determine if a qualified candidate had been overlooked during the initial vetting phase, but ultimately decided they had done due diligence and culled the most qualified candidates during the selection process.

Another consideration was whether to hire a hiring consultant to tap a broader market for the position, a tactic the city employed when it hired Chuck Stearns, the current city manager, eight years ago.

Employing a firm during Stearns’ hiring cost the city $42,000, Muhlfeld said, and the council decided to save taxpayers’ dollars.

“We unanimously agreed that we could handle this internally,” Muhlfeld said.

One difference between this round of hiring and the previous go-round is Whitefish’s addition last year of a full-time human resources director, Sherry Baccaro, who is helping spearhead the advertising and selection process.

“That position did not exist when Chuck was hired,” Muhlfeld said.

Stearns planned to retire Jan. 6, 2017, but agreed to stay on as the city’s top administrative officer until at least March.

“I did sit down with Chuck and he has graciously agreed not to leave until we have hired a replacement,” Muhlfeld said.

Whitefish will re-advertise the position beginning in early November and hopes to have culled its pool of applicants by early December.

Muhlfeld said Winn declined the offer for personal reasons and because his family was not prepared to leave Bozeman.

“All I can say is that he was very much satisfied with the terms of employment and the compensation package that we offered, but ultimately it came down to his family,” Muhlfeld said, adding that he expects the next round of top candidates to have made those serious considerations before interviewing.

“Obviously we were disappointed because it is a time-consuming process and it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Muhlfeld said. “The City of Whitefish deserves the right city manager and we are committed to hiring the right candidate.”

The city advertised for the position with a salary range of between $100,000 and $130,000, based on experience.

The Whitefish City Council, a community interview committee and a staff interview committee conducted in-person interviews with the finalists for the full-time position on Sept. 15. One of the finalists withdrew from the application process.

Winn has worked for the city of Bozeman for 32 years, serving the last eight years as the assistant city manager. Winn spent most of his career as chief of the Bozeman Fire Department, assistant director of public safety, deputy chief/fire marshal, and as a firefighter. He attended Montana State University with an emphasis in sociology and criminal justice.

Park has served as an elected town supervisor for the town of Wolcott, New York, and as an elected county supervisor for Wayne County, New York. Before serving in elected positions, Park served as the county administrator for Wayne County for approximately two years while also managing her own small business.

Meece previously worked in Livingston as the city manager. He holds a degree in political science and a master of public administration. Before his tenure with Livingston, Meece worked for Louisville-Jefferson County Metro as the assistant director of public works and general services administration and has held multiple city administrator and management positions.

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