Elected Officials and Hiring Don’t Mix

Posted on April 18, 2019

Brandi Leos, City of Tigard, Oregon (Twitter & LinkedIn)

What I’m listening to:  NPR on the way to work

What I’m working on:  Launching a new employee recognition program (ask me about Kudos)

What I’m looking forward to:  A road trip to see my college daughter

I recently participated on a panel about recruitment and selection in local government at the League of Oregon Cities Spring Conference.  The questions were what you might expect, mostly covering the challenges of recruiting in the public section, diversity and inclusion, and creative ways to attract talent.

One question, however, turned out to be more controversial than I expected. I knew right away why the question was asked and I was ready to answer.

Outside of hiring a City Manager or City Attorney, when should elected officials participate in the hiring process?

I was tempted (and admitted it) to provide a one-word answer.


Here’s the thing.  Elected officials have no business making staff hiring decisions.  Should they meet certain candidates?  Maybe high  but only highly visible hires like Chief of Police or Assistant City Manager and only in instances where you might invite the public to meet the candidates.  Giving the staff the impression that a city councilor has sway over personnel decisions is a bad idea.  We hire staff to provide thoughtful analysis and unbiased recommendations for best practices and innovative ideas, not just what council wants to hear.  We hire managers to manage staff – to make hiring and other personnel decisions, provide leadership, and to serve as subject matter experts.  Allowing elected officials to insert themselves in hiring middle management and staff positions taints the process.

An analogy I like to use to help our elected officials see the problem through their own lens is connecting it to corporate culture.  Corporate board members would not hire an IT Manager or receptionist.  Staff make those kinds of decisions and should be trusted to do a good job.  A councilors’ role is to provide direction and make sure the community needs are met, not who sits in the seat.

After the panel discussion, I was approached by several people.  One was a sitting city councilor for a city in Oregon. The councilor was upset at my remarks because in her opinion, the city made a bad hire for a department director. Not because this director is not a professional in their field, but because they have personality traits that staff and community members don’t like.  Dear Councilor, those hires happen all the time. I guarantee those traits fail to present themselves in an interview process.

Another person who chatted with me was a city manager who thanked me for sharing on this topic, as one of their councilors was present and needed to hear the message (and who was also livid and out in the hallway complaining to another Councilor).

Elected officials – sorry not sorry.  Please stay in your lane, trust the people on staff to make professional decisions, and take action (through the City Manager or other appointed authority) when those actions do not align with your community values.

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