The public got its first opportunity to interact with candidates for Columbia’s city manager position during a forum Wednesday night.
“The entire (City) Council felt it was important to include the entire community in what … was a very solemn and important decision, probably one of the most important decisions any council will make, and not every council gets to make this one,” Mayor Brian Treece said before the forum.
The final two candidates, interim City Manager John Glascock and Racine, Wisconsin, City Administrator Jim Palenick, offered brief introductions and answered questions in the Daniel Boone City Building. They then met with citizens in a neighboring conference room for a brief reception.
In his introductory talk, Palenick highlighted his 28 years of experience working as a city manager in a variety of environments.
“I felt that federal government might be too distant, too far away, too difficult to achieve, and state was kind of the same for me, but local government was something close to the people, that meant you could really impact people’s lives,” Palenick said.
Palenick said he followed an unusual path in city government by starting in a managerial role rather than working his way to the top. At 26 years old, Palenick became village manager of Dexter, Michigan, a job he said forced him to learn “everything there is about government.”
After Palenick’s introduction, Glascock spoke to the crowd, outlining the path that led to him working with the city of Columbia for 16 years.
“Never once did I dream I would be standing here, being a candidate for this job,” Glascock said.
Glascock said he wants the city to start thinking about how to act on its long-term vision, such as with its climate action plan.
“We’ve got to get to those goals that they’ve set in the next 30, 40, 50 years, so there’s gonna be some hard choices that we have to make in how we do that,” Glascock said.
While answering questions from representatives of CPS HR Consulting, the firm that led the search, the candidates were asked to define community-oriented policing.
“My definition is Geoff Jones,” Glascock said, drawing laughs in the room. “In the last four months that Geoff has been interim chief, we’ve exemplified community policing.”
Palenick said it’s important to recognize parts of the community have been historically mistreated by law enforcement.
“That’s the problem — that it’s just been enforcement,” Palenick said of policing practices. “It hasn’t been from the approach of being a partner and someone truly there to honor, to protect and to serve.”
After the meeting, Maria Oropallo said she would’ve liked to see more candidates at the forum.
“In 2011, when we hired our last manager, there were four finalists — and one of them was a woman,” Oropallo said.
Treece said the City Council and CPS HR Consulting interviewed six candidates before settling on Glascock and Palenick as finalists.
James Gray, who attended the forum, said though he would be happy with either candidate, he likes Glascock.
“He’s been here a long time, and being in the city — it makes a difference,” Gray said. “You bring somebody in, and then you’re back to square one. We need to stay where we’re at.”
Dee Dokken said she wished the public could’ve submitted questions during the meeting.
“There probably were other questions that would’ve been useful to hear,” Dokken said.
The council is scheduled to have a closed meeting to discuss the candidates at 9 a.m. Thursday. The position could be filled by the end of this week.
“While we have two good candidates, only one will leave with the rose,” Treece said after the forum.