City leaders focus on stabilizing key management positions
After several tumultuous months that have left some of Minneapolis' key management positions without a permanent leader, city and school officials are turning to those who know the departments best to provide a much-needed sense of stability.
And in a year that has so far seen the Minneapolis police chief leave town, the schools superintendent offer a forced resignation and the fire chief placed on paid leave pending an internal investigation, there's little sense of urgency among many city and school officials to begin searching for permanent replacements or in any way add to the shakeup.
“There are times in a position like mine when you should move rapidly to make swift management changes. This is not the case with any of these,” Mayor R.T. Rybak said. “Focus and stability are critical.”
To achieve that focus and stability, city and school leaders are relying on the savvy of individuals who not only know the department they're leading inside and out, but also have deep roots in the community.
Tim Dolan, a 23-year veteran of the Minneapolis Police Department who grew up on the North Side and attended Nicollet Island's DeLaSalle High School, has led that department since former Police Chief William McManus left April 14 to take the top cop job in San Antonio.
Bill Green, a former School Board member and current Augsburg College history professor who has worked on numerous issues in the district, took over as interim chief of the Minneapolis Public Schools after the School Board told former Superintendent Thandiwe Peebles at the end of January that she could quit or be fired.
And James Clack, a 20-year veteran of the Minneapolis Fire Department who has spent the last two years as one of two assistant chiefs, has been filling in since March 22 for Chief Bonnie Bleskachek while she remains the subject of a human resources investigation.
“The important thing to remember and what people should know is that even though there aren't permanent people in these leadership positions at this point, there is continuity of leadership,” said City Councilmember Ralph Remington (10th Ward). “I feel very confident that the interim leadership in place is very stable.”
‘We want to do it right, not fast'
City and school leaders are so comfortable with the leadership in place that there's been little movement toward beginning the search for a new police chief or schools superintendent.
Rybak has not yet announced a timeline or process for the search for a new police chief and is taking his time in doing so. Although it is up to the mayor to make a recommendation for police chief, Rybak said he plans to begin meeting with councilmembers in the coming weeks to get a sense of how they would like a search to proceed. Dolan has been appointed to a 90-day term, but that can be extended.
Similarly, School Board Chairman Joseph Erickson said a firm timeline has yet to be set for the search for a new superintendent. He said the process likely won't begin until this fall, and the final selection will probably occur sometime after the new School Board is elected in November, allowing those members to have the final say. Green's contract is set to go through June 30, 2007.
“Our goal is to stabilize the district. Having an interim superintendent for only a couple of months is untenable. Commonly, interim superintendents serve for a year or more,” Erickson said.
He emphasized that making the right choice will be more important than how quickly the choice is made.
“We want to do it right, not fast. Bill's doing a terrific job, so we can take our time to do it right,” Erickson said.
For now, it seems many officials simply want the interim leaders to help repair relationships with and regain the trust of staff and community members, while at the same time returning the focus of their respective departments back to their basic service elements. Erickson said Green is focused on three things: repairing relationships, improving student performance and transforming the district via strategic planning.
“I think the sense of urgency is let's get things stabilized and get things on track and get through the budget and that sort of thing, and then we'll think about other things,” said School Board Member Judy Farmer.
Dolan is also looking at achieving some very basic goals, Rybak said. The interim police chief is squarely focused on day-to-day public safety and the continued development of community policing initiatives.
“There is no immediate need that is even close to our immediate need to stay focused on public safety right now,” Rybak said. “ There will be an appropriate time to look at the long-term issues. But we're not missing a beat on public safety.”
Yet some councilmembers said they do want to expedite the process for getting some of the city's top leadership positions filled permanently. Council President Barb Johnson (4th Ward) said she thinks councilmembers need to act decisively and get the police chief position filled. Councilmember Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) agreed.
“It's a huge concern to me,” Lilligren said. “Two key executives in public safety are not stable at the moment The sooner that we can, in the case of the police chief, fill that position and, in the case of the fire chief, stabilize that position, the better.”
And this time around, some city leaders are leaning toward finding that stabilization from within. Both McManus and Peebles were highly recruited candidates from outside the city, but both of their tenures in Minneapolis were rocky and ended before their contracts were up.
McManus came from Dayton, Ohio, where he was credited with bringing the police department closer to the community and providing much-needed direction in just two years. He also had worked in Washington, D.C., where he played a key role in reducing crime and refining the department's community policing efforts. But McManus left Minneapolis two years into his three-year term, citing uncertainty about his future with the department.
Peebles was an attractive candidate because of her strongly acclaimed work with struggling schools in Cleveland. But her people skills proved questionable, and she left after the School Board bought out her three-year contract just mid-way through, amid an investigation into whether she used district staff and resources to handle personal business.
The failure of McManus and Peebles to succeed in Minneapolis, as well as the success of their interim replacements, has some leaders thinking that this time around they may want to stick a little closer to home in their search.
“I think it's hard to make sometimes the adjustment of stepping into these big organizations when you really aren't very familiar with the territory and there are pitfalls and minefields,” Johnson said, adding that hiring an external candidate in McManus was “a lesson learned.”
Johnson said she wants to look internally for candidates but admits that in the last search for a police chief she was persuaded to give external candidates a serious look. But she thinks looking at internal candidates might work better this time around.
Lilligren said internal candidates are more invested in the community and some who were candidates for police chief when McManus was hired went through the evaluation process at that time.
“There's a strong sense of internal candidates. We have plenty of qualified candidates,” Lilligren said.
Councilmember Scott Benson (11th Ward) said during the search that resulted in McManus' hiring, several internal candidates scored very highly in the testing evaluation. He suspects there are still some very well qualified internal candidates.
“The highest finishers last time were internal candidates,” he said.
Remington said initially he wanted to look externally and internally for a new police chief so as not to limit the city's options and to find the best person for the job.
“Now I'm more or less to the point where maybe we should look - as with any or most companies or organizations that do this kind of thing - maybe we should start with an internal search and if we're not satisfied and we want to see if there are possibly other folks out there, then maybe we should go to an external search,” Remington said.
Erickson said the School Board would consider Green if he expresses interest in permanently taking the superintendent position, and there is an interest in other internal candidates as well.
“Bill has tried to emphasize building leadership from within, so I hope some internal candidates will emerge in the next six months,” Erickson said.
The next step
Both school and city leaders have said one of the first steps in the selection process will be meeting with community members and reviewing expectations for new leaders.
Erickson said the School Board is looking for “a leader with a vision that exceeds our community's goals for children. We don't want merely an administrator.”
School Board Member Lydia Lee described the person she would like to see take over as superintendent as someone with good communication skills and the ability to unify and strengthen the community.
“It's such a big job and no one can assume to do it on their own,” Lee said.
Rybak said he will be seeking community input in the search for a new police chief and will use the criteria developed during a community-driven process used to hire McManus in 2004. Those criteria called for a chief to be focused on maintaining public safety, a strong leader, strong manager, someone who demands respect and consistent service in all communities, and a visible leader who builds partnerships with the community.
Lilligren and Remington both stressed that the important thing will be having a process in place for finding the next police chief.
“I'll be pushing to transparently and openly start discussing what these criteria are going to be and what this process is going to be,” Lilligren said. “I think people deserve to know, especially in this time of turmoil.”