Interim city manager chosen for city of Milford

MILFORD — The city of Milford named an interim city manager after lengthy debate at the council meeting Monday night.

City Manager Eric Norenberg submitted his resignation to city council last month, citing a difference in ideas. In his letter, sent to the Delaware State News Nov. 13, he stated, “Recently, it has become apparent that the Milford City Council has a vision for the future that differs from mine and I respect that.”

As he prepares to depart from his position on Tuesday, Dec. 31, city leaders discussed how to fill his job and voted to make Milford Public Works Director Mark Whitfield interim city manger.

Mayor Archie Campbell recommended Mr. Whitfield serve in that capacity while continuing to supervise the public works department.

Councilman Todd Culotta and others expressed frustration at the announcement as it was the first they heard official word of that recommendation. Mr. Culotta commented that there were no such recommendation in the city council packet for the evening meeting.

“But we have talked about it, you and I,” Mayor Campbell said, suggesting he and Mr. Culotta had previously spoken in private about Mr. Whitfield’s possible interim role.

Mark Whitfield

Mr. Culotta said while leaders know of Mr. Whitfield’s work through the public works department, they should also know about other qualifications and background topics before making such a decision.

To discuss those topics in detail, City Solicitor David Rutt said the conversation would need to be moved to an executive session. Since it was not on the agenda for that night’s session, Mr. Culotta suggested the conversation be tabled until the next city council meeting which is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 13.

Before tabling the conversation, council members questioned what the city charter outlines in the absence of a city manager.

“It really doesn’t say, but when you look in the chief executive officer or city manager [section], the next officer identified is the city clerk. So, that’s the default,” Mr. Rutt said during the meeting, suggesting City Clerk Terry Hudson would then become the interim city manager until a new city manager was chosen.

“The charter does not explicitly say who steps in in the absence of the city manager,” Councilman Jason James confirmed.

“The default is really that the city council has the right to appoint someone, either a city manager or acting city manager,” Mr. Rutt said.

He read aloud part of city charter code 5.04: “By notice filed with the city clerk, the city manager shall designate, subject to the approval of the city council, a qualified city administrative officer to exercise the powers and perform the duties of city manager during his or her temporary absence or disability.”

The charter does not give specifics on how the city should proceed with an interim city manager should the current manager’s leave be permanent.

The discussion promptly moved to the idea of utilizing a firm to help the city find good candidates for their city manager search; a request for proposal has been drafted by Mr. Norenberg, Mayor Campbell and Ms. Hudson.

Councilman Owen Brooks expressed his frustration after the last experience with a such a firm.

“The city spent thousands of dollars and they came back with three people and they said they had about 40. When they cut it down to about three, they came back to us,” he said.

“I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but one had five jobs in five years. The other drove through Milford and he didn’t stop. A man that had five jobs in five years shouldn’t be on the top of the list. I mean, we spent thousands of dollars.”

The RFP requires a firm to return with five candidates for the council to consider instead of three, according to Mr. Norenberg. Councilmembers Michael Boyle and Mr. James added that council could deny all five suggestions when the time comes and request a new batch of candidates if needed.

“Council has to do its job. We don’t have to accept anything that we don’t want,” Mr. James said, adding that it’s their duty to be diligent in the process. “We have the ability to look at what they present to us and say we want to talk to them or no, we don’t.”

Mr. Rutt suggested councilmembers decide on which qualifications and criteria to request in a candidate to help in their search or to offer to a firm for guidance.

With none of those things in the works as of yet and an unrelated presentation yet to be heard on the agenda, Mr. Boyle motioned to table the conversation until the January council meeting and other council members approved the motion.

Council members continued deliberation during an executive session held at the end of the meeting as uncertainty loomed ahead of Mr. Norenberg’s departure Dec. 31.

Upon reopening the meeting to the public before adjournment, Mr. Rutt said, “The motion would be to approve the discussion held in executive session regarding the interim manager as the mayor’s responsibility.”

Mr. James motioned to approve the motion, nullifying the previously approved motion to table the conversation until January. The vote was unanimous with those present; Councilwomen Lisa Ingram Peel and Katrina Wilson were absent for the meeting.

“Mr. Whitfield is the acting city manager effective January 1,” Mayor Campbell announced.

Mr. Whitfield responded: “Thank you, I think.”

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