By Charles Sercombe
Some 38 people recently applied to become Hamtramck’s new city manager.
Out of that field, only three met the qualifications set by the city charter. The city’s search firm, GovHR, recommended only one candidate to be interviewed.
So who were these two candidates as well as all the others who did not meet charter qualifications?
Before that is looked at, it should be noted that Hamtramck’s requirements to become a city manager are considered by many to be too limiting. The charter requires a candidate for the position to have the title of city manager or assistant city manager for at least three years in a city with a population of at least 10,000.
If the city did not have those strict requirements, the city’s search firm said there were 17 candidates who were of “interest” – and presumably possible contenders for the job.
But 14 of them did not meet charter qualifications. Here’s the breakdown on the backgrounds of those unqualified candidates:
• Four of the candidates had the title, but they worked in cities with populations of under 10,000.
• One candidate had the title but only worked in that capacity for two years.
• Nine candidates held city administration positions in communities with populations over 10,000, and in most cases around 100,000. One of these candidates was a director in a position of state government.
All of those candidates, it could have been argued, had the experience that would have fit Hamtramck.
So who were they?
We will likely never know – even though public tax money was spent on the search.
The Review filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the city and the state Treasury Department to get copies of all the applications.
Both the city and state said they could not supply that information because the applications were not in their possession.
Instead, we were told the applications are being held by the search firm, GovHR.
The search firm contracted with the city for $19,000 to conduct the search, but according to Acting City Manager Kathy Angerer the state Treasury Department agreed to reimburse the city for the contract.
Public bodies can reject a FOIA request if the requested documents do not exist.
But what happens if the documents exist but are not in their possession?
That raises a thorny issue.
Having a private entity be the keeper of records is a new and apparently growing trend that has not yet been challenged in court, says Michigan Press Association Attorney Robin Luce Hermann.
The search firm promised candidates they could apply knowing their applications would not be made public – except for the final candidates recommended for an interview.
Attorney Hermann said this trend in having a private company hold documents that would otherwise be considered public is fast becoming “standard operating procedure.”
“It’s a way to circumvent from the public knowing,” she said.
So far, the trend has been largely limited to people applying for public jobs – or at least high-profile jobs.
The attraction to keeping those applications out of public view offers candidates safety from having their employers – if they are employed – knowing they are looking for a job.
For some candidates that confidentiality prevents them from possibly losing their current jobs. A search firm like GovHR would argue that without that privacy, fewer candidates would apply.
That still doesn’t answer the question about who owns the documents that taxpayers paid for.