Interim City Manager John Glascock and Racine, Wisconsin, City Administrator Jim Palenick are the two finalists for Columbia’s next city manager.
The recruitment process began with 33 candidates, and the Columbia City Council began paring the list down in the spring. The finalists’ interviews are scheduled for July 10 and 11, and the public will have a chance to meet and talk with the candidates during a public forum from 6 to 8 p.m. July 10 at the Daniel Boone City Building.
“The City Council promised the residents of Columbia a transparent, nationwide candidate search, and we are pleased with the results,” Mayor Brian Treece said in a news release Monday morning.
Glascock, a former deputy city manager and Public Works director, has been the interim city manager since Mike Matthes resigned in November. Although he originally said he would not be a candidate for the permanent job given his plans to retire within a few years, he later changed his mind.
Palenick, who has been city manager in Racine since April 2017, has a long history of city management experience, according to his LinkedIn profile. Before Racine, he worked in North Carolina, New Mexico and Michigan.
Treece didn’t know the exact date the council would choose the city manager but said it could be as early as the end of next week.
“I want council to be united in this decision, because it’s so important for the city of Columbia,” Treece said. “More than anything, I want the community to have a chance to weigh in to meet the candidates.”
While Treece said the format for the public forum is not set, community members will have the chance to “interact” and ask questions about “personal priorities.”
Second Ward Councilman Mike Trapp agreed with Treece that community input and feedback is vital to the council’s decision. After the July 10 public reception, council members will regroup and gather feedback from department heads.
“We have two candidates that all seven of us believe in and think that they both have what it takes to be the next great city manager for Columbia,” Trapp said.
Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala said both candidates bring “a lot to the table.” Skala has known Glascock for more than 20 years and said he is “loyal” to the community. He called Palenick a “visionary.”
“I think frankly it’s up to the public to really decide and get behind one of these and let us know,” Skala said. “It’s going to be a tough decision, but that’s the decision that we were elected to make.”
Glascock has over 16 years of work experience in Columbia. During his three-year stint as deputy city manager, he oversaw Community Development, Public Works, Sustainability and Utilities, which together included over 700 employees and a $275 million capital improvement budget.
Glascock appointed Interim Police Chief Geoff Jones in January, after former chief Ken Burton stepped down. During his recent State of the City address, Glascock said he “shares a vision of transparency and community policing” with Jones.
As interim city manager, he also “reorganized” the city manager’s office for greater “efficiency,” according to the release.
“I’m honored, for one, to be asked,” Glascock said in a Monday interview. “I’ve been here a long time and I never thought about being the city manager until this happened.”
Glascock said he initially didn’t intend to apply for the position because he didn’t know how he would be received.
“I’ve been here for 16 years, and you could be looked at being part of the last administration and they want a complete change,” Glascock said. “I had to see if I worked well with council. It’s been nothing but positive, so that’s really what spurred me to do it.”
Hiring someone from within Columbia city government would allow for a “base of knowledge” about local conditions, Trapp said.
“There’s the strength of existing relationships,” Trapp said. “No one from the outside can match that.”
Treece said there would be an “ease of transition” if the council were to choose an internal candidate.
“You already have a candidate that clearly knows and loves the city, and the people who work here and live here,” Treece said. “It would be less of an interruption with the ongoing progress we made over the last three years.”
Palenick has served as administrator of Racine, a city of about 78,000 people south of Milwaukee, since April 2017, working with a $205 million budget and over 700 employees, according to the release.
In his application, Palenick said that in his 29 years in city management he has focused on strategic planning and economic sustainability. He has also worked on large-scale, mixed-use, urban infill development projects with over $300 million in private investments in hotels, retail and housing units, the Columbia news release said.
Palenick equipped Racine police officers with body cameras and advocated for community policing.
Palenick said in a Monday interview that he’s had the experience of coming in as an outsider and that the city manager position begins with “a lot of listening.”
“You have to really understand the community and what the community wants, needs and supports, and you have to be that person who can bring value to the proposition,” Palenick said. “It’s a fast-growing community. Often times I’m used to fast-growing communities not being able to keep up with the kind of sources you need to provide the level of things you want to do.”
Palenick said he’s “very humbled” to be considered for the position and is looking forward to coming to town for an interview.
Palenick was fired from city manager jobs in Bay City, Michigan, in 2002; in Gastonia, North Carolina, in 2011; and in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, in 2006.
After losing the Rio Rancho position, he filed a lawsuit seeking back pay and claiming his termination was illegal because city council members held private conversations that violated the state’s Open Meetings Act, according to the Albuquerque Journal. After years of litigation, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Palenick had forfeited any possibility of back pay after accepting a severance package.
Palenick said no one has ever questioned his skills, professionalism, background or political success.
“In this profession, particularly when you can have change at the political level, elected officials change over and often times what happens is they look to make change with the city manager position,” Palenick said.
He said during his time in Gastonia, there were seven council members. In one year, voters elected five members for “change.”
Treece said he wouldn’t comment on specific issues regarding the candidates’ backgrounds but said the public should rest assured that due diligence has been done. He said looking outside the city for the next city manager would bring a “fresh look” and a different skill set to approach issues Columbia is facing.
Skala said the public has a distinct choice.
“They’re either gonna pick an insider who is very dependable, is very accomplished and very qualified to do what’s necessary to be done,” Skala said. “Or they’re going to either pick someone, or at least indicate the pick of someone who is more of a visionary.”
CPS HR Consulting, hired by the council to lead the search, used an “aggressive” engagement process, conducting public meetings, online surveys and in-person meetings. In addition to advertising the position, the firm reached out to people in cities of similar size and with similar challenges to Columbia for potential candidates, Treece said.
The city gathered input from residents, organizations and other stakeholders on the attributes they believe are important for the next city manager, Treece said in a Monday interview.
Council members held two community meetings, individual meetings and in-person meetings with 75 different organizations, community advocates, nonprofits and stakeholders. They also received more than 500 responses to an online city survey.
Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.