Despite his official title, it’s likely hard for McKinney city officials and staff to see interim City Manager Tom Muehlenbeck as just temporary.
When his contract expires June 1, he’ll have been at the city’s helm for nearly as long as two recent “permanent” city managers.
Muehlenbeck, who has over 40 years of city leadership experience, signed a one-year contract with the city that began May 9, 2014. Last January, the city extended his contract through this coming May.
But, as they say, every good thing must come to an end – and yes, according to most at City Hall, the longtime leader’s steadying presence has been a positive.
Officials are now tasked with replacing that good with good.
After weeks of related talks in executive session, the McKinney City Council will soon select a search firm to facilitate that task. The city sent out requests for proposal to 12 companies with executive search experience, but only two responded in time.
The council thus requested a broader search, hopeful to garner more options, and Friday went over that response. Council members – and the public – are set to hear presentations from at least two firms on Tuesday evening.
“The City Council is acutely aware of the importance of the city manager position in the city manager/council form of government,” Mayor Brian Loughmiller said, explaining how council members believe McKinney “should draw highly qualified candidates” given its reputation as “one of the best cities in America.”
Regarding the search, city officials want a firm that will “engage the community stakeholders” in establishing an ideal profile for the right fit – one that’s familiar with McKinney and its city government, priorities and growth projections – Loughmiller said.
City manager has proven a somewhat challenging role in recent years. Former City Manager Jason Gray resigned in February 2014 after a controversial three-year tenure that at times pitted officials against each other and even at odds with residents.
His sudden ouster of former police chief Doug Kowalski (now Prosper Police chief) drew the ire of the council, and Kowalski’s replacement – Joe Williams, whom Gray brought on to the city staff soon after his own arrival – is no longer with McKinney.
Before Gray, though, Frank Ragan also served as city manager for only about three years. With Larry Robinson in the position for six years, McKinney has had three city managers in 15 years, the mayor noted.
So, the search firm must know what it’s doing. But what about the actual hire?
“This will be the most important decision that I will have to make during my term on council,” At-large Councilman Randy Pogue said, pleased that the city expanded its pool of search firm candidates. “I would hope that this will prove to be a good sign that we will also have a large pool of highly qualified applicants to review.”
According to Loughmiller, the city manager should be a good communicator, someone who presents well to corporations and residents, a person with a high level of ethics and integrity, and a person with the “substantive skill set of running a city.”
That includes budget preparation, negotiation and planning of development, staff managerial abilities and “responsiveness in the implementation” of city goals and policies, he said.
Such planning is at unprecedented levels in McKinney. The city is in the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan – intended to be a guide through 2040 – and is specifying guidance for its State Highway 5 corridor and for its mostly undeveloped northwest sector.
At more than 155,000 in population, McKinney isn’t even halfway built out, so most, if not all, pending decisions are paramount to keeping up with the continued growth.
“This next city manager will be here to aid in those decisions, and the trajectory of the city somewhat hangs in the balance,” Pogue explained, stressing that the city is expected to have at least 350,000 people at buildout. “We still have a ways to go.”
Along with a background in high-level leadership, the city manager should entail “honesty, ethics, character, integrity and a willingness and desire” to be in McKinney, Pogue added.
The city’s still largely untapped potential – perched atop one of the state’s and nation’s fastest-growing counties – will undoubtedly attract candidates. Whether the ultimate choice sticks around long enough to shed that temporary tag is mostly on council members.
Until then, they have a few months left with an “interim” city manager who already established a new benchmark for the position.