Unfortunately, Hollister’s botched first round in its search for a new city manager has become a political football. I believe that it’s vital for our residents to know the facts so they can be confident that the majority are making decisions in the best interests of the city.
There is no truth to the charge that the applicant, Paul Eckert, was rejected for his political positions, because he was the mayor’s preferred selection or because he opposed growth. He simply did not meet minimums for demonstrated leadership.
During the scoring interviews with the city council, Mr. Eckert expressed his intent to give great weight to the mayor’s positions, but also to take direction from the majority. I scored Mr. Eckert high, second among the six final candidates.
If there was intent to reject anyone for political reasons, merely giving the candidate a few low scores would have done it. That did not happen.
The full council asked no questions about Mr. Eckert’s involvement in a civil lawsuit with accusations of sexual harassment and retaliation during his tenure as city manager in Sioux City, Iowa. That was because almost all the related information was in a brief synopsis. However, I later learned the information came almost exclusively, from Mr. Eckert himself.
At some point, Councilmember Honor Spencer brought Mr. Eckert’s history forward and indicated she was very concerned about the civil suit based on information available on the Internet, and would oppose his appointment.
It was also reported by the Free Lance that Mr. Eckert had been the final selection for city manager of Roseburg, Oregon, but had withdrawn without explanation when they started a background check. This worrisome event was omitted from Mr. Eckert’s resume.
As a member of the ad hoc committee, along with the mayor, for the selection of a city manager, I thought it important to have unanimous approval to give confidence to the staff and public.
I was also reluctant to take Internet information at face value; therefore, I recommended we make Mr. Eckert interim city manager “pending the review of additional information” while I obtained official documents. That was agreed upon by a majority and reported to the public.
It was a mistake on my part; I did not suspect that trying to be fair to all parties would later be used as a basis for political attacks.
I requested and received a copy of the civil suit and settlement agreement directly from Sioux City and was informed, in writing, that there was never a report of the original sexual harassment investigation (this was at odds with Mr. Eckert’s statements that the report was lost) and that the investigation on claims of retaliation were being withheld due to attorney-client privilege.
I reviewed the documents and had face-to-face conversations with Mr. Eckert for hours, including a long phone call initiated by him where he covered his personal views of the Sioux City staff.
My final judgment was that I could never know what actually happened when only two people, Mr. Eckert and the plaintiff, were together. However, as to claims of retaliation and a toxic workplace environment, the plaintiff supplied many details and names of potential witnesses at various levels. I was taken aback at what appeared to me to be Sioux City’s troublesome culture regarding those issues.
Since Mr. Eckert had been the assistant city manager and city manager at Sioux City, and considering his opinion of his own staff, I lacked confidence that he had the leadership skills necessary for Hollister’s unique organization. That being the case, I could not support him for Hollister city manager.
Marty Richman, mayor pro tem, Hollister