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LARRY MAYER, Gazette Staff

The Billings City Council remains on schedule to select Billings’ next city administrator on Dec. 18, the last meeting of 2017 and the final meeting for Mayor Tom Hanel and up to five council members.

Karla Stanton, the city’s Human Resources director and the liaison between the council and The Mercer Group Inc., a Santa Fe, New Mexico-based firm contacted to help the council find a successor for Tina Volek, said Tuesday that the search firm has not told her how many people have applied to date.

The application deadline was to have been Oct. 6, but Stanton called that “a soft deadline” and said the search firm could still be considering more applicants.

The timeline as it currently stands is for the council to trim the list of applicants to 8-12 semifinalists, a process that the council expects to complete by the end of October.

The council will hear input from an appointed citizens committee, which will hold its initial meeting at 3 p.m. Monday in the first-floor conference room at City Hall.

After that, a group of 3-5 finalists will come to Billings Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 for public meetings and question-and-answer sessions. It's possible a finalist could already be a city employee.

Following those public appearances, the council will have the opportunity to check with officials and colleagues in the municipalities or organizations in which the finalists serve to help guide their decision.

Over the past year or so, Billings officials — led by Volek — engaged a similar process selecting Gavin Woltjer as director of the Billings Public Library, Wyeth Friday as director of Planning and Community Services and Kevin Ploehn as aviation and transit director.

Early on in all three searches, candidates’ names were kept private in order to encourage as many applicants as possible. Some municipal government candidates have said that having their name released early on in the process can have repercussions in their current job.

Stanton said it’s her understanding that the process “will be very public” once the council has decided on the group of finalists.

She anticipates “some very strong applicants” considering Volek’s 13-year tenure leading Montana’s largest city and the financial stability that Billings has attained.

In material circulated by The Mercer Group, the new city administrator is expected to have earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, have five or more years of management experience in a similarly-sized municipality and have experience in a growing city and experience with successful planning for growth and development.

Volek was paid $155,000 annually during her final year on the job. She retired when her contract expired Sept. 30.

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City reporter for The Billings Gazette.