Process questioned, not the candidate chosen
The City of Marion apparently has selected its next city clerk without allowing candidates to be interviewed by the mayor, who legally is responsible for making the appointment, or the council, which legally is responsible for ratifying it.
The selection reportedly was made by a committee that includes City Administrator Roger Holter and Councilman Todd Heitschmidt, who is challenging Mayor Mary Olson in the April 1 city election.
Contacted by the Record after the newspaper was alerted by another source within city government, Olson said Tuesday that she was “disgusted” at how she and the rest of the council were left out of the interview process and that she was seeking counsel from an expert in Topeka about whether the process was appropriate.
Olson declined to identify the person selected, saying she didn’t want the candidate chosen to be caught in the crossfire.
If approved, the candidate — who according to another source has a background in accounting, lives at the county lake, and is employed by the Marion school district — would be the third city clerk since December. Angela Lange resigned Dec. 19. Sheila Makovec was hired mid-January but resigned two weeks later, saying the job wasn’t what she expected.
After Makovec’s resignation, Olson gave Holter authority to form a committee to narrow down 21 applicants to a manageable number for finals who would be brought in for interviews.
Olson said Holter notified her of the three finalists, and she was anticipating having them be interviewed by her and the council.
However, when Holter’s committee, which included Heitschmidt and assistant city clerk Becky Makovec, met to do their own interviews with the candidates, only one of them showed up.
The committee chose to offer him the job, Holter said. He informed Olson before Monday’s council meeting. Olson in turn requested a closed session to notify the whole council.
Olson said she did not make an issue of the process during the closed session because she expected only one council member to side with her.
According to the latest unofficial version of Marion city code, the mayor has the sole authority to appoint, among other positions, the city clerk. Such appointments require ratification by the council.
City Attorney Susan Robson could not be reached Tuesday to determine whether that section of the code had been amended.
Heitschmidt said Tuesday that Holter had authority to hire city employees and that the candidate would be hired first as an employee, with an undisclosed job title, then appointed clerk by the mayor with council approval.
Olson and Holter disagree on whether the interview panel was empowered to make any job offer. Olson said no such authority was given. Holter said it was; however, no mention of the appointment of the committee or its powers can be found in council minutes since Sheila Makovec’s resignation.
When Makovec was hired, a panel interviewed and narrowed the field of applicants. Three finalists were then interviewed by the council before the job was offered. The fact that the council didn’t interview the narrowed field is Olson’s objection to the latest process.
“I don’t appoint people without knowing them,” she said. “Even when I appoint people for committees, I still get to know them first.”
Olson said Tuesday that she planned to speak as soon as possible with an expert in Topeka whom she has consulted on previous issues. She said she planned to ask him whether the appointment was legal and what the next step would be.
Heitschmidt said the candidate’s appointment would be discussed at the next council meeting, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. March 31.
Holter, Heitschmidt, and Councilman Jerry Dieter all said the job offer was contingent upon the candidate passing routine drug and background checks. Heitschmidt and Dieter said such checks couldn’t be made until after an offer was made.
Council members Jerry Kline and Chris Meierhoff could not be reached for comment.