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Polson

Flathead Lake, with the city of Polson in the foreground.

POLSON — The Polson City Commission won't use a consulting firm in its search for a new city manager, at least for now.

This role has been in flux since late October, when Mark Shrives stepped down amid sharp criticism of his performance. Two weeks ago, the City Commission appointed Chief of Police Wade Nash as interim city manager, but the task of finding someone to fill the position full-time remains.

On Monday, the six-member group was poised to adopt a contract with Prothman, an Issaquah, Washington–based consulting firm that specializes in recruiting for local governments, and that had helped select Shrives in 2013.

Under a sample schedule included with the contract, Prothman would have moved quickly, conducting final interviews by late January. It would have charged the city a $17,500 recruitment fee. With this and other costs, the commissioners expected that using Prothman's services would cost $30,000.

"The only issue I have is obviously the cost, especially the budget with the way it is this year," said Commissioner Stephen Turner. The city government expects to spend $17.9 million in fiscal year 2019, receive $16.5 million in revenue, and use reserves to fund the difference.

While Turner said he thought the hiring process had worked well last time, he mused whether the city could try to find a new manager on its own before paying for outside help. His colleague Jan Howlett doubted it could, predicting "you're not going to get anybody with the experience that you need."

But during the public comments session, several attendees took issue with the cost — especially for a firm whose previous pick for city manager, Shrives, had ended badly — and voiced a strong desire for a local candidate to fill the position.

"I think after listening to the citizens of our town that we should table this motion at least for a week," Turner said. "I'd like to look at some other options. Again, Prothman isn't the only headhunter out there."

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Because the motion had already been introduced, the commissioners voted it down 5-1, with only Graydon "Brodie" Moll voting in support.

Asked how Polson had initially partnered with Prothman in 2013, finance officer Cindy Dooley said "we kind of polled other cities and that's how we found Prothman, so based on their recommendations that it was a good process."

Polson City Clerk Cora Pritt said it was uncertain when the commissioners would again decide on a possible partnership with an outside firm. In the meantime, she said the city will soon advertise for citizens to join a search committee to assist the process.

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