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Administrator search narrows

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County: Field pared down to 5 candidates for top job

By Arin McKenna

The search for a new county administrator that began about 10 months ago has yielded a group of finalists with one expected to emerge from the process as the chief executive for Los Alamos County.

Carl Thornton – the only citizen to attend one of two public input sessions on qualities and qualifications the county should look for in a county administrator – said, “They’ll need to be a real superman or superwoman.” Council seemed to agree with Thornton, and the five candidates being considered for the position have an exacting set of standards to meet.

Candidates who made the first cut include: 
• David Benda currently resides in Midland, Mich. Benda has more than 16 years experience as a county administrator in both Midland and Clinton, Mich.
• Arthur “Harry” Burgess has been the city administrator for Carlsbad since 2005. Burgess also served as county manager for Grant County for four years.
• Earl Mathers has been the county administrator for Gallatin County, Mont., since 2006.
• Tom Mitchell resides on Bainbridge Island, Wash. Mitchell was the county executive officer for Mendocino County from 2007-2010.
• James Payne has more than 13 years of city administrator experience. Payne resides in Rio Rancho, where he was City Administrator from 2007–2008.

Candidates will be in Los Alamos Sept. 22 and 23 for interviews with councilors and top staff along with tours of Los Alamos and White Rock.

On Sept. 23, the public is welcome to observe interviews by a panel of community leaders from various organizations and businesses. These will be conducted from 8:30-10:30 a.m. and 12:30-5 p.m. in Council Chambers.

The public is also invited to meet the candidates at a reception from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 22 in the Pajarito Room at Fuller Lodge.

A subcommittee of councilors worked with executive recruitment firm Prothman Company to establish qualifications for the position. Advertisements ran in July and August, and council has been working with Prothman to narrow the list of candidates.

Search requirements included basic qualifications, such as experience in city or county administration.

“He/she must demonstrate a proven track record of delivering results, building accountability for staff and creating a positive working environment, characterized by teamwork and innovation.”

The new administrator must also have the skills to support the county’s economic development efforts, including being a “skilled negotiator,” and continue the county’s goals of strengthening intergovernmental relations. He must have the ability to implement the Strategic Leadership Plan council adopted earlier this year and help the county achieve its long-term vision.

Communication skills were emphasized, including some specific to the Los Alamos community. The new administrator must communicate well with council, boards, staff and “a wide range of constituencies in a diverse community. He/she will have the ability to work in a participatory democracy with a highly involved, well-educated citizenry that has high expectations for service delivery from the local government.”

Council also is looking for specific qualities in the candidates “The ideal candidate will be a leader, coach and mentor who will possess strong leadership skills and communicate a sense of vision, backed by specific goals and objectives and a plan to achieve these goals. He or she should be honest, hard-working, and approachable by citizens, staff and council, and be able to establish an atmosphere of trust, mutual respect, and cooperation.”

The pay scale for the new administrator is between $140,000 and $170,000 a year. The final selection and announcement of a successful candidate is expected in early October.

Editor’s note: The Los Alamos Monitor will feature more complete profiles of the candidates in Sunday’s paper.