The City of Portage will go at least a couple of weeks without an acting city manager when Maurice Evans retires April 1.
But a decision from the manager’s office Tuesday means it won’t go without an acting deputy city manager during that time. Employee Development Director Rob Boulis will fill that role when current deputy manager Brian Bowling retires April 4, just a few days after Evans.
The Portage City Council has known since early February that current City Manager Maurice Evans would retire April first. With less than two months’ notice, council members knew they wouldn’t find a permanent replacement for Evans before he left.
At a council meeting last night Mayor Pro Tem Jim Pearson said it’s critical that the council take the time needed to find the right person.
"The most important thing we do on council is to find a permanent city manager," Pearson said. "That’ll be the person that’ll be directing this city, setting the tempo and where we go over the next five or ten years hopefully, and so that is the most important thing that we really need to work on and we will be spending a lot of time on that."
That’s led to a series of special meetings to work out a process for hiring a new manager. Last night the council approved a job description. They won’t post it directly; they’ll send it to a search firm. It will pick a handful of candidates and present them to the council.
But the search for a permanent city manager takes months. In the interim a city usually appoints an acting city manager. And often that means elevating someone already in the city manager’s office.
Current deputy manager Brian Bowling has been with the city for nearly 38 years and has served as acting manager before. And three members of the council, Mayor Pete Strazdas, Claudette Reid and Terry Urban strongly supported appointing him again this time.
But on March 18 the council voted four-to-three to take applications for the acting manager position instead, leaving the city with two top administrative posts to fill.
Two days later, Bowling announced he was leaving.
At the council's meeting Tuesday evening, Urban said Bowling's departure is Portage's loss.
"Whether it's the facilities that you see, whether it's the services that you receive or whether it's the financial health that we enjoy, Brian is in part or in whole responsible for it," he said.
"I believe it was a grave mistake for the welfare of this city for the council not to allow Brian to do his specific job – filling in for the city manager when he is not available."
After Bowling's announcement, it seemed that Portage might start April fifth with neither an acting manager nor a deputy manager. And that would have made it difficult for even routine city business to go forward – since the city manager or a deputy must sign most financial documents.
But Tuesday night Strazdas announced that the city had appointed Boulis as acting deputy city manager effective the afternoon of April fourth. Strazdas addressed Boulis at last night’s meeting.
"Thank you for getting us out of the first step of this bind," he said. "I sincerely hope this council will support you. I sincerely hope the community, business community, the citizens will support you in your short term of bridging things in the city manager’s office."
Boulis will continue to head the HR department while he serves as acting deputy manager. Strazdas says he hopes an acting city manager will be appointed no later than May. The job description approved at last night’s meeting will be posted until April 15.
The council hopes to fill the permanent city manager position by September or October.