While the Columbia City Council has asked the public to submit
questions for the five finalists vying to become the next city manager, some residents and organizations are frustrated that they don’t know who the candidates are.
The council has given the public until Nov. 10 to submit questions that will be asked during a Nov. 11 public forum. It will not release the names of the finalists, however, until Nov. 9. That, some say, prevents the public from asking specific and meaningful questions.
“It is typical of the city management to give out information at their own convenience and not in the public interest,” said Larry Hine of the Valley View Gardens Neighborhood Association.
“I’m not satisfied with their reasons for not telling us who they are.”
The council decided in an Oct. 24 work session to withhold the names at the request of one finalist, who asked that his or her name not be released to avoid any impact on a Nov. 8 election in his or her city.
“It seems like we’re trying to be secretive, but I can assure you it’s being done for all the right reasons,” Sixth Ward Councilman Brian Ash said Friday. “I’m sure it’s frustrating for the citizens, but we have to respect the privacy concerns of the candidates.”
Not all residents, however, appreciate the gesture.
“They’re going through the motions of public input for the sake of it,” said Traci Wilson-Kleekamp, a member of Timely and Responsible Road Infrastructure
Financing. “It’s not the government’s job to decide what we need to know and when.”
Wilson-Kleekamp said she feels she can’t submit good questions without knowing the candidates and their backgrounds. She said she would be particularly bothered by the decision to withhold names if Assistant City Manager Bill Watkins is among the finalists.
“I want to know if Bill Watkins has applied for the position,” she said.
Watkins said Friday that he could not confirm whether he had applied for the position or whether he is a finalist. He did say, however, that the candidate who requested that names be withheld was a non-local candidate.
Mayor Darwin Hindman confirmed this statement, adding that the City Council is not required to announce the names at all. He said consultant Karl Nollenburger has told the council that Columbia’s is one of the more open selection processes he’s seen.
“We think the process is very open,” Hindman said.
The mayor said questions submitted by the public should be general enough to apply to all the candidates and not specific to any one.
The questions, if selected, would be asked by a moderator during the Nov. 11 public forum, which will be broadcast on local television channels. Residents can submit questions online at www.GoColumbiaMo.com or by calling 817-6400.
Missourian reporter Kristin Markway contributed to this report.