Littleton City Council has narrowed the search for a new city manager to six choices.
And while council agreed to move forward with interviewing the six finalists, several members said at a special meeting Dec. 15 that none of the candidates particularly stood out to them.
"I had a really difficult time doing this because nobody really grabbed me," Councilmember Peggy Cole said.
The finalists were selected out of a pool of 10 applicants who were asked by council to fill out questionnaires. Those 10 came out of 29 applicants selected by Waters & Co. Executive Recruitment, a Texas-based firm the city contracted in October to find a replacement for former City Manager Michael Penny, who was fired by council in June.
The six finalists will be interviewed in a three-day process Feb. 1-3, which will include a seven-person panel of Littleton residents selected by the councilmembers.
While only one candidate currently lives in Colorado, another worked for the City of Boulder previously. All have administrative experience with various municipalities and advanced degrees.
Like Cole, Councilmember Bill Hopping said that nobody stood out.
"I'm not seeing home run hitters here," he said.
Waters & Co. Senior Vice President Chuck Rohre said council has an unclear picture of the candidates.
"You haven't sat down with them, talked with them," he said.
Cole said that she thought the interim city manager, Mark Relph, would be a better selection than any of the finalists. Relph, the city's public works director, has repeatedly said he is not interested in the permanent position.
Penny was fired by council in a 4-3 vote, and controversy over that may follow the city as it picks a replacement, according to a representative of the search firm. Councilmember Doug Clark, a longtime critic of Penny, introduced the motion to fire him, saying the then-manager had displayed incompetence in his role as well as a lack of transparency. Mayor Bruce Beckman, Councilmember Jerry Valdes and Cole voted with Clark to fire Penny, while Hopping and councilmembers Debbie Brinkman and Phil Cernanec voted to keep him.
Hopping said at the time there was a "multi-pronged approach to dismantle the city." The firing came on the heels of controversy over the city's administrative appoval of a large mixed-use development at Littleton Boulevard and Bemis Street that drew protests from neighbors and other citizens.
"Some candidates may perceive this as a challenging city council, a challenging political environment," Rohre said.
Hopping noted that he said in June that the manner in which the former city manager was fired would make it harder to attract talent.
"I called that shot," He said.
Hopping said that rapid growth in the area and other issues necessitate a good city manager.
"We need top guys because we are challenging," he said.
Citing a Wallethub survey that listed Littleton as the fourth-best small city in America earlier this year, Beckman said the city should have no trouble attracting quality candidates.
Rohre also said that a city charter limiting severance pay and requiring the manager to live within the city limits could also limit the applicant pool.
Penny received $72,981 after he was fired, though only $22,150 was severance. He also received longevity pay and vacation pay. His base salary for 2016 was $172,661. Rohre said that it is not unusual for terminated city managers to receive six to nine months of severance.
Though the council discussed extending Relph's interim position and expanding the search, it ultimately decided to move forward with interviewing the six finalists.
"I don't think we're in a position to really judge the abilities of any of these people at this point," Beckman said, agreeing with Rohre that the interview process would give the council a clearer picture.