Bruce McCandless

Bruce McCandless will serve as Billings city administrator for up to a year.

LARRY MAYER Gazette Staff

Three weeks after four new members took office, the Billings City Council has filled the city administrator vacancy for a year.

Thanks to Bruce McCandless, Billings will have a capable executive leading the city during a busy year while the new council considers how to hire a permanent city administrator. McCandless, the city’s longtime assistant administrator, has retirement plans and doesn’t want the top job long term.

At Monday’s council meeting, McCandless said he is willing to serve as city administrator for up to a year, after serving as interim administrator since Tina Volek’s retirement in September. McCandless said he plans to have his contract proposal ready for the council’s consideration by Feb. 1, along with a proposed time frame for council members to hire his successor.

For the next four months, Planning and Community Services Director Wyeth Friday will serve part time as assistant city administrator. Meanwhile, McCandless plans to hire a full time assistant administrator, whom may be a city manager in a smaller town or an assistant in a larger town. Two weeks ago, the city council directed McCandless to hire an assistant because he has been doing two jobs since September.

Much as we want to see the permanent administrator position filled soon, it is more important to get an excellent leader than to complete the job quickly. In 2017, the council spent most of the year in a search process that ended in failure.

In the next several months, McCandless and the city staff have major assignments to complete, including drafting city’s annual budget and negotiating new contracts with all three of the city’s employee unions. McCandless has two department head vacancies to fill. The Fire Department and Finance Office presently have interim chiefs. The city also needs to start working on its priorities for the 2019 Montana Legislature.

McCandless told the council that he aims to hire an assistant who could be a candidate for the permanent city administrator position. “Get to know that person and see if they are a viable candidate,” McCandless said.

An assistant moving up to the top job? It could happen. It could work well.

After all, Tina Volek, who was hired as assistant city administrator, was named interim upon her boss’s departure and then became Billings’ longest-serving city administrator, working 13 years in City Hall.

The city council must still prepare a plan for making their choice, and their salary and benefits offer. McCandless might find a great candidate, or he might not.

Mayor Bill Cole must fill the vacancy created with Ward 4 Councilman Ryan Sullivan’s resignation last week. The residents of Ward 4 deserve equal representation and the entire city deserves to have a full 11-member council.

More movies downtown

The council unanimously approved a committee recommendation to negotiate with Arthouse Cinema and Pub to lease the city-owned Babcock Theatre on Second Avenue North. The nonprofit Arthouse has already brought new entertainment downtown and plans to reopen the Babcock for first-run movies as well as live entertainment. This is a good deal for Billings.