City manager position addressed at work session

KINGMAN - The city manager position, annexation, economic development and the citywide radio system were among the top priorities discussed by the City Council at a work session held Wednesday morning.

Going around the table, Mayor John Salem asked each council member for their individual top-five project priorities, compiling the most common answers into a list of about nine priorities for the whole Council to consider.

Annexation, specifically the desire to revisit past annexation plans, topped the list, with five Council members expressing interest in exploring the subject in the near future. Councilman Ray Lyons especially pushed for the idea, suggesting the city was at least a decade behind where it should be in terms of area.

"You're inside the city of Kingman before you see a sign that says 'Kingman City Limits,' you go to other cities and you see a city limit sign long before you see the city," Lyons said. "We're so far behind in that department that it'll take a long time to catch up."

Lyons urged the Council to consider looking at surrounding vacant land first, as it would be easier to annex than inhabited areas. He suggested land on both sides of Interstate 40 as well as land out toward the Airport Authority, to the city's northwest.

Councilmembers also expressed significant interest in re-establishing some form of Economic Development Department. Salem pointed to a recent countywide survey of businesses that found Kingman's economic development lagging behind that of Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City. Council opinions differed on whether to consider establishment of a full-fledged department or whether to merely designate a liason between the Kingman Airport Authority, the Chamber of Commerce and the city government.

Councilman Kerry Deering, who admitted voting to eliminate the original Economic Development Department in 2007, suggested looking toward the Airport Authority's Director of Economic Development Bob Riley as one possible liason, citing Riley's extensive experience working with businesses in the nearby Industrial Park.

"I think we that ought to look at possibly working somehow with the Airport Authority, Bob Riley and the chamber," Deering said. "I don't necessarily know that we need an Economic Development Department, but we do need some kind of economic development stimulus, and I think that that would be a good place to start."

Another key concern of the Council's was the antiquated citywide radio system.

With some of its components well over a decade old, the radio system was estimated to cost about $1.4 million to bring up to date, according to a study conducted by a Glendale-based firm two years ago. That funding had been included in a bond issue last year, but the issue was voted down.

Kingman Fire Department Chief Chuck Osterman was on hand at Wednesday's work session. He pointed to the failure Tuesday of KFD's control radio as a poignant indicator of just how dire the situation currently is.

"None of the consoles could talk to or hear the fire radios in the field," Osterman said.

While KFD was able to get the dispatch radio back online by adapting a mobile radio to the system, Osterman said field radios were limited in their ability to tone out pagers or other fire department frequencies. He said there were no system redundancies or backup equipment in place to prevent the failure from happening.

While no official actions could be taken during the work session, the situation was of such concern to Council members that they instructed the city clerk to include looking at financing the radio system as a staff direction for the upcoming regular Council meeting Aug. 4.

Moving on to their second agenda item, the Council discussed its options regarding the Planning and Development Services building at 201 N. Fourth St. The city currently leases the 8,700-square-foot building for approximately $6,750 each month, or $90,000 a year including property taxes.

Council opinions differed on how to proceed with the building. Mayor Salem, acknowledging that the city had already spent a great deal on revitalizing the structure, was in favor of having it appraised and then purchased outright. Vice Mayor Janet Watson disagreed, saying that as a former retail outlet, the building was far too large for the 15 employees it houses.

When pressed for alternatives, acting City Manager Jack Kramer suggested the possibility of securing a vacant building across from St. Mary's Catholic Church at 302 Spring St., which, while much smaller than the current building, is closer to City Hall. Councilwoman Robin Gordon was enthusiastic about the proposal, though neither she nor anyone else present knew whether or not the church was looking to sell the property, which had once housed a Catholic elementary school.

The discussion of whether to purchase, lease or move out of the current Developmental Services Building will continue at the Aug. 4 Council meeting.

Finally, Council considered options for filling the city manager's position, left vacant for the past 11 months. Once again, discussion dovetailed, with some on Council wishing to hire Kramer outright, while others stressed the importance of searching outside the city.

Gordon was one of the councilmembers advocating for an outside search. Though she praised Kramer's performance as acting city manager, she maintained it was important to find the absolute best person for the job.

"Not to take anything away from Jack, I think that for the sake of the city and making sure we get the best person that we can get, we need to do that search," Gordon said. "I know we have budgetary problems, but we have budgeted for that money for that search, and we also have money to budget for both positions - Jack's position of Public Works director and the city manager's."

Councilwoman Carole Young noted that the city need not conduct a search strictly through private firms, as they were the most expensive option. She said the Arizona League of Cities and Towns could offer a comparatively long reach at less cost.

Councilman Kerry Deering countered this, saying that former Mayor Les Byram had informed him of a dearth of qualified candidates in his dealings with similarly personnel-challenged cities across the state. Noting the current economic downturn, Deering argued that now was a bad time to spend additional money searching for a new city manager when a qualified candidate was already present.

Councilman Keith Walker echoed Deering's opinion. Hiring a new city manager had been one of the top five priorities he announced earlier in the meeting, and even then he had suggested hiring Kramer outright.

"We could waste a lot of money headhunting for somebody," Walker said.

In the end, Council worked out four options, which members will consider at the Aug. 4 meeting. Those options include offering the job to Kramer, contracting out to a private headhunting firm, approaching the League of Cities and Towns for assistance or having the city conduct its own independent search.