Saturday, September 19, 2020

Polson selects new city manager

Daily Inter Lake | August 7, 2020 1:00 AM

The city of Polson has offered its city manager position to Livingston’s former City Manager Ed Meece.

The Polson City Commission had narrowed the field down to two candidates prior to the July 28 special meeting. Along with Meece, the Commission was considering Deer Lodge’s Chief Administrative Officer Brian Bender. The Commission split in its final vote 3-3, with Mayor Paul Briney casting the deciding vote in favor of Meece. The decision allows the city to open contract negotiations with Meece, who currently is employed as the city of Bozeman’s parking program manager.

The Polson city manager is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the city, working under the policy guidance the City Commission. Polson has 43 full-time non-unionized employees who ultimately report to the city manager.

Polson Police Chief Wade Nash has been leading the city as interim city manager since former city manager Mark Shrives stepped down in October 2018.

A candidate search began in earnest last winter. In July, commissioners and city department heads met with each finalist in a series of personal interviews and a meet-and-greet.

Prior to the City Commission’s final vote July 28, Briney said he had conflicting feelings about each candidate, noting that he changed his mind as the interview process played out over the last few months.

“I was a big supporter of Brian. I thought he was my man,” Briney said. “Then he interviewed here, and especially with the department heads, he didn’t interview well.”

He said Bender made some “outlandish statements” and appeared to lose interest in the job.

Briney said he ultimately favored Meece, “reluctantly.”

Commissioner Lou Marchello, however, was enthusiastic about Meece and his connection to the Lake County area.

“His family has been in the area for a long time,” Marchello said, adding that he thinks Meece would bring “longevity” to the city manager position.

Commissioner Brodie Moll was impressed with Meece’s listening and communication ability — traits he said would be important for the job.

“I think they’re both strong candidates, but for this time and place for the city of Polson, Ed’s the man.”

Meece also impressed Commissioner Jan Howlett, who described him as “calm” and “personable and approachable.”

The dissenting commissioners were concerned about Meece’s untimely departure from Livingston. Meece resigned from his post in Livingston as the city was considering whether to terminate his contact.

Carolyn Pardini was blunt in her assessment, describing Meece as “disingenuous.”

“I felt Brian [Bender] was a much more genuine person,” she said. “I felt Ed was manipulating us.”

Commissioner Bob Martin said Bender struck him as the more professional candidate.

“He’s a master of his craft and has a clean record as a city manager, where as Ed doesn’t,” Martin said.

Howlett countered that, from her understanding, Meece’s departure from Livingston was nothing more than “politics.”

One commissioner, Tony Isbell, suggested the city should keep looking at other candidates before making a final choice.

“I worry that we’re settling,” he said. “I wouldn’t be opposed to opening it back up. I’d hate to make a wrong decision right now.”

During public comment, Dave Rittenhouse advised the commission that the success of the final candidate “lies with the relationship with the commission.”

“We’ve had issues in the past with lack of communication and miscommunication,” Rittenhouse noted, adding that it will be important for the commissioners to develop a relationship with the new city manager.