The City of Nogales has yet to pin down a qualified candidate since restarting its search for a city manager last fall.
During a Jan. 5 meeting of the mayor and council, a recruiter hired by the city said six people had recently applied – but none met the minimum qualifications for the position. Now, the California-based consulting firm CPS HR is expanding its outreach.
“We’re hoping that by the end of this month, that the council can be interviewing candidates once again,” Pam Derby, an executive recruiter and manager at CPS HR, told the council.
Derby said the firm will now work to reach potential applicants in states like Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico.
“Some of the other states that have a lower cost of living,” Derby explained, “and that their pay scales are in line to what Nogales’ is.”
Derby said the job would pay a yearly salary ranging from $130,000 to $150,000. That’s the range that was originally offered, before the mayor and council voted last October to repost the position with the salary reduced to between $115,000 and $125,000,
CPS HR also planned to continue advertising through the League of Arizona Cities and Towns – a job site for municipal positions within the state.
But, Derby said, Arizona has not yielded any qualified candidates.
“We know that there is a desire ... for someone from Arizona, but we have not been able to attract new candidates since the first go-round in late summer, early fall,” she added.
While the city did receive a recent handful of applications, Derby deemed them ineligible, stating they all lacked government experience. Hiring a candidate from a governmental background would allow for a more seamless transition with a new hire, she said.
“(Most organizations) want someone who has had experience,” she told the council. “Not someone who needs to come in and really learn the job.”
Councilwoman Liza Montiel urged an expansion of search options – suggesting that Derby consider a retired general or chief executive officer for the position. Or, she recommended, the city could consider an attorney to fill the role.
Montiel even suggested advertising the position in the Nogales International, asserting that the city might succeed from a local search.
“Having been here for a year now, people that think outside the box and have different types of careers, they can bring a lot to a municipality,” Montiel added.
Pursuing a candidate from a non-governmental background is certainly an option, albeit an unconventional one, Derby conceded.
“We can spread advertising into other areas that don’t just target city managers and assistant city managers,” Derby said.
The city has lacked a permanent manager since May, 2020, when the council cut ties with former manager Edward Johnson.
Then came a winding trail of acting city managers – none of which can serve for more than six months, according to the Nogales City Charter.
Deputy City Manager John Kissinger took on the interim position in June 2020. After that, then-Nogales Police Department Lt. Robert Thompson accepted the role in December 2020. When Thompson’s term was up, Kissinger returned to the acting manager role for another six months.
By December 2021, Kissinger’s term was up once again. So the City Council voted narrowly in favor of City Attorney Michael Massee filling the interim position.
Massee’s appointment was meant to be temporary – “until the consultant can come back to us in January,” Mayor Arturo Garino had said during the Dec. 1 vote.
Going by the city charter, Nogales officials now have under five months to either appoint a new city manager, or replace Massee with another acting manager when his term expires in May.
The city hired CPS HR for $35,000 in March 2021 to help it find a permanent manager. The first search conducted under the arrangement resulted in an applicant pool of 31 people – 11 of whom were presented for the mayor and council’s consideration.
The officials then interviewed three semifinalists in executive session and honed in on a single finalist – Adolfo Bailon, whom they interviewed in open session on Oct. 6.
However, they were unable to reach a contract agreement with Bailon and voted on Oct. 27 to repost the position.
“It’s obvious we’re having a hard time, people are not interested in applying,” Montiel said during the Jan. 5 meeting. “I’m hopeful, though, that we get this going.”
Meanwhile, the city is also preparing its search and hiring process for a new magistrate.
Vanessa Cartwright left the magistrate position in November after she was appointed to serve as judge pro tempore at Santa Cruz County Superior Court.
The council agreed on Jan. 5 to set the salary at a maximum of $108,000. The council also planned to set the position as “open until filled,” with a review date set 30 days after the job posting.
“I think we can find a qualified judge in the city of Nogales that would accept 108 (thousand),” Garino said.
The mayor was adamant on resisting any upward negotiation from applicants, noting $108,000 was the maximum salary Cartwright had earned. Vice Mayor Esther Melendez-Lopez and Councilman Jorge Maldonado voiced similar sentiments.
“We had a very good judge. One of the best judges I’ve seen down there,” Garino said of Cartwright. “Big shoes to fill, with her not being there.”
During the same meeting, the mayor and council voted in favor of an employment agreement for Deirdre Eshleman to serve as interim magistrate in the meantime, with an annual salary of $108,000.
Eshleman had previously worked pro-bono for the Nogales court system.