Reducing city personnel costs is tough, Carson City’s five chief executive candidates said Tuesday. They mentioned technology, efficiency, collaboration and sustainable-compensation agreements as ways to achieve the goal.
In order of appearance, the quintet going before the City Manager Advisory Committee throughout the day was James Nichols, Stacey Giomi, Timothy Hacker, Nicholas Marano and Jeffrey Fontaine. Each gave an opening and closing statement, between which each fielded a raft of questions. Among them were inquiries about collective-bargaining experience and reducing personnel costs.
“Peeling away layers of the onion,” offered Nichols when asked his views on how to decrease personnel costs. Nichols, until two weeks ago the assistant city manager in Midland, Texas, said that meant assessing fundamental service needs, looking at outsourcing, partnering and collaborating with other jurisdictions, or even trying to renegotiate pacts with employee organizations. He earlier said he has collective-bargaining experience.
“I think you have to look at the entire equation,” Nichols said of finding cost savings.
Giomi, Carson City’s fire chief with three decades in fire service here, mentioned technology and efficiency as he talked of difficulties because cutting employees means cutting services.
“It comes down to finding ways to be more efficient where we can be,” Giomi said. He also said he thinks city government is pretty efficient and explained one difficulty is because “retirement is a big cost.”
To the earlier question about collective bargaining, he replied that he has experience on both sides of the bargaining table during his career.
Hacker, city manger in North Las Vegas until last September, said one way to cut costs is by creating sustainable contract agreements with employee representatives at the bargaining table.
“There are ways to work to establish sustainable relationships,” he said, noting they can lead to compensation agreements looking ahead rather than just for current pay gains. To the earlier question on bargaining, he said he obtained “mixed results” via collective bargaining in North Las Vegas.
Marano, now a consultant but from 2009-12 the chief executive at Camp Pendleton as a Marine colonel, said 75 percent of governing costs go toward personnel as he also noted the problems involved.
He said it’s difficult to find savings because there are “no silver bullets.” He also talked at one point about communicating via technology. He said when federal money dried up at Camp Pendleton he catalogued all services and they were ranked as mission-critical, essential and enhancing. “It was very painful,” he said, but by doing it and setting priorities the critical needs “rose to the top.”
Marano said he didn’t bargain with employee organizations over pay, but did on working conditions and hours. He also helped establish the first labor-management forum at the camp, which had 4,000 civilian employees.
Fontaine, like Giomi a Carson City resident for decades and currently the executive director of the Nevada Association of Counties, also cited the 70 percent to 80 percent of government budgets that are for personnel. He said that during the recent Great Recession, he saw some counties “slash and burn” to budget while others used “surgical cuts.” He then advocated efficiency via consolidation of services.
“Those are things you have to decide together,” he said, “so I think it’s really important to be collaborative.”
Collaboration and building relationships were themes of the day, cropping up time and again during answers to the nearly 20 questions posed. All of the candidates got the same questions, some of them general and some behavior-based to test how candidates had met various circumstances in leadership roles.
The general questions delved into encouraging personnel to be customer-friendly and service-oriented, how to evaluate performance and manage people, experience handling development and redevelopment, how to encourage regional partnerships or cooperation and ways to lobby the Legislature, while those about behavior sought specific examples.
Openings and closings dealt with various matters.
Marano, the lone candidate with no Nevada experience, said he understood why some might want a manager with local or state background. But he said an outsider with broad life experiences and strong communications skills can prove valuable as well, adding that it wouldn’t be just another job to him.
Giomi and Fontaine mentioned their local background and desire to keep serving in government.
Giomi said his passion has been the fire service, “but my passion is also local government,” and closed by saying he is a good match for the job.
Fontaine cited both his current role and former work at the federal and state level, including serving a stint as the director of the Nevada Department of Transportation. He said this would be his “dream job” now.
Hacker managed to use both his Nevada experience and background in his native Iowa and in Illinois, saying he is eager to move from the boom/bust mentality in Southern Nevada to the more stable northern part of the state.
Nichols also cited broad experience in Nevada, Texas and elsewhere. Before going to Midland, he was deputy city manager in Las Vegas. He has held government jobs in Washington state and Arizona as well.
The city’s Board of Supervisors will get materials from the advisory panel and will be able to view Tuesday’s taped interviews soon, as can the public. At the regular April 17 meeting, the board will be asked either to choose finalists or move all five to the next step. The board is slated to interview the final five or smaller group on Friday, May 2, before deciding to whom an offer will be made.