Billings City Council members had Thursday night to sleep on their decision before selecting the next city administrator Friday.
The council interviewed the four finalists Thursday at the Northern Hotel. The four men also met with department heads and chamber officials, the public and the media.
At 8 a.m. Friday, the council will meet with department heads in the Royal Johnson Community Room at the Billings Public Library to learn their thoughts on the four candidates. At 9 a.m., the council is scheduled to begin its decision process, culminating with the announcement of who will succeed Tina Volek. Both sessions are open to the public. Public testimony will be accepted during the 9 o’clock meeting.
Born and raised in Billings, the Helena city manager, who’s 56, told the council Billings is the only other municipal government in America he’d want to lead. “This is where I’ll retire, as long as you’ll have me,” he said.
Three decades ago, while a sergeant in the U.S. Air Force, his work was so sensitive that he said he was “just a phone call” from the National Security Adviser.
He said he’s provided department heads in Helena the incentive to save money in their budgets by placing some of the savings in their department’s portion of Helena’s capital improvement plan.
He said he believes he and the Helena City Commission handled this summer’s removal of the Confederate fountain “pretty well.” The commission instructed Alles to remove it on a Wednesday, and it was gone by Friday. Since the fountain's removal was contentious, he said he would have preferred a nighttime removal process, but that option was not logistically feasible.
Asked about the greatest frustration in his work, Alles said he doesn’t have one.
“Overcoming frustration is part of my job,” he said.
The general manager of the Truckee Tahoe Airport District in California, Smith was formerly assistant city manager in Cottonwood Heights, a relatively new community outside Salt Lake City.
He talked about accomplishments there, including writing the new city’s master plan in six months and serving when he could as a reserve police officer. But he also discussed what he’s learned by taking missteps along the way.
One example: A person had placed bus benches with advertising in public rights of way, and someone had crashed into one while bicycling, injuring the bicyclist.
Smith told the man to remove the benches, but six months went by with no action. Smith then hired a company to remove all benches in city rights of way, angering the man who’d sold advertising on the benches. “If I’d just sent him a certified letter (early in the process), it would have caused a lot less anguish,” Smith said. “There are landmines we all step on.”
He said he likes to manage by roaming around. “Obviously there are chains of command, but I want folks to know I am approachable,” he said. Employees “need to know the city manager has a focused awareness of what’s going on.”
Municipal governments that innovate attract young, bright workers, he said.
“We use some archaic technologies,” he said. “You’ve got to turn young workers loose and say, ‘Show us how we can do this better.’”
The former city manager in Boulder City, Nevada, Fraser celebrated his 50th birthday Thursday by interviewing for the Billings position.
Asked how he’s encouraged elected officials to work together, Fraser talked about his previous experience as executive director of the Nevada League of Cities and Municipalities — which had a 28-member board of directors, all of them from different cities.
“They all had their own objectives and agendas,” he said. “I helped them focus those into our mission, and the same is true with a city council.”
“One thing you’ll get with me,” he said, “is that I think the worst answer in the world is, ‘Because we’ve always done it that way.’ There is usually a better way, especially if no one has applied some imagination (to the issue) in a long time.”
He said he views his role in part as a coach, saying he’d help departments to innovate by removing the roadblocks that inhibit innovation.
“I’m happy to be the lightning rod, but I’m happy to be in the background too,” he said.
He said he was once introduced as “the cog between the city’s legislative function.” He said he thought that was an astute job description, “because I stand with feet in both camps.”
Doyon, 48, was born and raised in Maine. The Great Falls city manager called the Billings job “an opportunity to stretch.”
He said he’s learned to “connect the dots” doing budget presentations so that the public can more easily understand one of the city’s most important annual endeavors. In the nine budgets he’s presented, the Great Falls City Commission has made only two changes. “We have been able to understand what the commission is looking for,” he said.
“When your mills are limited, it makes it easier in a way,” he said. “You have just so much to work with, so you need to educate the community and be realistic about what you can and cannot do.”
He said it will take the new city administrator a year “to get his feet firmly planted.” If he’s selected, he said he’ll ask each council member to give him the name of somebody in the community he should talk to in order to learn from a broad perspective.
“In Billings, you have a different level of challenges and some different economic opportunities," he said, "that quite frankly would be fun to be a part of.”
Before his interview, Billings department heads asked Doyon for his vision of the city, “but really, it’s the council that sets that direction,” he said.
Over the years, he said he’s learned at least two lessons for quality management: to articulate expectations and to delegate.
“Here, there will be an even greater level of delegation, due to the sheer size of the organization,” he said.