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Bialkowski: City Council has responsibility to conduct professional search for a new manager

By Mike Pettinella

The Batavia City Council member who requested that the “process to hire a new city manager” item be placed on this past Monday’s meeting agenda says it is the board’s duty to invest the time and effort necessary to hire the right person for the job.

“I’m a firm believer that we owe it to the citizens of Batavia to do a search and find the most qualified person, and anyone that wants can submit an application. I think that’s important because if we don’t, then the innuendo and rumors will be flying,” Robert Bialkowski said by telephone on Tuesday.

Council discussed the matter for about nine minutes during its Conference Meeting at City Hall, exploring its options as it looks to find a permanent replacement for departed City Manager Martin Moore.

Assistant City Manager Rachael Tabelski has been serving at acting city manager since June 22, two days after the City and Moore severed their relationship.

Bialkowski said he put the topic on the agenda because “I wanted Council to make a decision – let’s move forward.”

He said he wasn’t pleased with the placement on the agenda, being that it wasn’t positioned as an item that would result in a resolution.

“If you look at the Conference agenda, it was under the Council president explaining the process,” he said. “I’m noticing some unusual things.”

The councilperson-at-large said the board should take advantage of a “warranty” offered by The Novak Consulting Group, the Cincinnati, Ohio-based firm that conducted the search that resulted in Moore’s hiring in August 2018.

“The company offered a full warranty if the manager either was terminated or left on his own accord within two years, and they will stand behind that warranty,” he stated. “You’re not going to find another company to do it any more reasonable."

When the subject came up during the meeting, Council Member Kathleen Briggs asked if a hiring freeze in effect would pertain to filling the position at this time.

After both Council President Eugene Jankowski and Tabelski said it was for part-time employees and didn’t apply to a vacancy, the former suggested contacting Novak to inform its leadership team of the City’s situation.

“Let’s see what kind of feedback we get from them and move forward,” Jankowski said. “It’s only been a few weeks but we don’t want to wait too long.”

At that point, Tabelski indicated that she is interested in the position.

That prompted Jankowski to mention some options – starting a new search and following it through or putting the matter on hold for a month. He then said more details would be discussed in executive session after the Aug. 10 meeting.

“I think we should reach out and see what our option is with that other agency first and once we have that information, we’d have more to decide,” he said.

Council Member John Canale concurred, adding that “most likely we will reach out to them at some point; so, kind of put them on notice.”

“I agree with Bob that it’s important to start the process and then we can, in executive session at some point, get together and start to talk about the candidates,” he said.

Jankowski, choosing his words carefully, then said there were three options.

“If you think about it there are only three options – you can do a whole search and hire somebody, keep what we have in place and make that offer or a combination of both … there’s only three choices there,” he said. “We need to know if that other option (Novak) is off the table for some reason – the company’s no longer in business or they don’t see it the way we see it – that would be an important thing to know.”

Bialkowski said he did an internet search on the company and found that it not only is still in business, but it has expanded.

“The contract we signed with them … the guarantee for this position is two years,” he said. “Should the selected candidate leave or be terminated from the position within two years of being hired, The Novak Consulting Group will conduct a new search for no professional recruiting fee.”

Jankowski said it behooved the board to find out what expenses the City may incur by conducting a new search.

“At a time when things are tight, I want to know exactly what kind of money we’re going to be talking here. … Let’s get some more information and bring in back for August,” he said.

He then asked Tabelski to contact Novak Consulting Group, and she, in turn, said she would assign Human Resources Specialist Dawn Fairbanks “to make those inquiries … so I would not have any knowledge of the process you may or may not entertain as you move forward, working with the city attorney.”

Bialkowski was known to be a supporter of Moore, and he acknowledged that he did vote “no” during the executive session that followed Council’s June 8th meeting. Less than two weeks later, Moore was gone.

Asked on Tuesday if he had hard feelings over Moore’s departure, he said, “I can’t comment on that because it was in executive session. But what I can comment on if you look at the minutes, I did vote “no.” (The vote was 8-1). That’s all I can say.”

Bialkowski then was asked why a vote was necessary if Moore had indeed resigned, which is what he had been quoted as saying in a story in a local newspaper.

“What do you want me to tell you? I know what you want me to tell you but you’re on a fishing trip with no bait,” he responded. “Everything else, we are bound by lawyer, attorney-client privilege in executive session."

He said that finding Moore's replacement is “totally impersonal.”

“I don’t care who applies,” he said. “I can only encourage people to apply.”

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