Chris Miller steps in for Neal Beets
George Fairbanks, Roseville Review, News Editor

Good-bye Roseville Neal Beets left his position as Roseville’s city manager last Friday afternoon with a going away party attended by city staff and residents. Beets is leaving to take over as city manager in Federal Way, Wash.
Linda E. Andersen / Review

On a 5-0 vote, the Roseville City Council named Chris Miller, the city's current finance director, as acting city manager at its July 17 meeting. The action took effect at 5 p.m. July 21.

Miller was appointed to temporarily replace Neal Beets, who resigned to become the city manager in Federal Way, Wash.

Miller, who has been the finance director for more than four years and was a staff accountant in the city in the early 1990s, is eager to get started in his interim position.

"We're going to move forward," he said last Tuesday in an interview.

When asked what drew him to apply for the position, he responded, "I thought it was important to maintain as much continuity as possible."

Because of his role in the city's budget matters as well as his strong working relationship with Beets, Miller said he thought he was in a good position to fill in.

He also noted he wants to continue focusing on the city's budget issues as well as the Imagine Roseville 2025 community-visioning process.

Miller added he's long had a desire to assume a broader position in city government. "My career interests have always been beyond finance and accounting."

As to whether he is interested in the job on a permanent basis, Miller explained much will depend on the council members and what they define as the new city manager's role and expectations.

"Then I'll see if I'm a good fit or not."

Miller said he's learned a great deal from Beets in their time together.

"It's been nothing but positive," he said of their relationship.

Salary bump

The council also voted 5-0 to give Miller a 10 percent pay increase that will bring him in-line with Beets' annual salary of $110,000.

"I support the salary increase," Council Member Tom Kough said, before adding he currently doesn't want to give Miller any other contractual perks that some city managers enjoy, such as a car allowance.

Mayor Craig Klausing was a strong supporter of Miller taking over for Beets on an interim basis.

"He has the ability to take on those additional responsibilities," Klausing said.

It seemed the council was prepared to name Miller the acting city manager at its July 10 meeting, but instead adopted a proposal made by Council Member Amy Ihlan to open the process to all interested city employees.

At the July 17 meeting, Ihlan urged her colleagues to continue thinking about other alternatives, such as a retired city manager who might be interested in coming back to work for a short period of time. In an interview last Tuesday, Ihlan said she intends to continue emphasizing other alternatives to her council colleagues.

"I would want to consider whether we have other options," Ihlan said.

Ihlan was also quick to point out her stance was in no way a reflection of Miller, whose work she praised, but rather was out of a desire to explore any and all options.

"None of this has ever been about Chris' qualifications or ability to serve," Ihlan added in the interview.

Miller was the only city employee who applied and as of now it's unclear how long he will serve in his temporary capacity. During the meeting, Ihlan noted it's possible Miller could serve for as long as six months, allowing the incoming council, whose dynamics might be changed by this fall's election, to determine the new, permanent city manager.

With that, the council chose to discuss the length of Miller's appointment at its July 24 meeting.

Search options, survey results

One of the major issues the council members will need to explore is simply how to search for a new city manager. They can do a national search, regional search, local search or even an in-house search.

When asked at the meeting by Council Member Tammy Pust what advice he would give regarding a search, Beets advised the council to avoid a national search, which he called overly time-consuming and typically ends up identifying a local person as the best fit.

"I would not undertake a national search for a city of 35,000," Beets told the council. "I think it's a waste of time and money."

Dona Bacon, the Roseville human resources manager, shared with the council the results of a survey she conducted with Roseville employees asking what they would hope to see in a new city manager.

In terms of education, 13 respondents thought the ideal candidate would have either an advanced college degree or a law degree.

"The majority felt an advanced degree or law degree was important," Bacon said.

With regard to background, 11 respondents said Beets' replacement should have government experience or city manager experience in a similar-sized community. Six said the person should have experience working with a "strong and thorough" city council and six said the person should have previous experience in finances and budgeting.

On the survey, Bacon asked people to rank the 10 most important areas of experience for the incoming city manager, from a provided list. Sixteen people ranked "budget policy, structure, preparation and presentation tied to strategic planning" at the top.

"Staff development, team building, mentoring and coaching," was cited by 13 people, as was "formal reporting and liaison with elected officials."

Regarding management style, six respondents cited "excellent communicator," and five people mentioned the following: "staff support and development," "team builder," "open, honest, direct communication of expectations and job performance," and "approachable."

When asked to list what priorities the city's next manager should have, five people said, "build positive relationships with council and staff," and four people said, "communication with council and staff."

The survey also asked, "What skills would you look for in the incoming city manager to complement the current staff?"

To that question, three people answered "team builder" and another three responded "excellent communicator."

Bacon's survey also asked city staff about their opinion as to what kind of search the council should conduct.

Six people said the council should use a search firm to help locate the best possible candidate.

As to the importance of a local versus national search, three voted for a local search.

Three others voted for a national search because they thought it would be better. Meanwhile, three more voted for a national search and stated: "I think local candidates will not be likely to want this position if they keep up with what has happened here over the last few years."

Finally, respondents were asked if they had potential candidates in mind. Four people mentioned Richard Fursman, the former city manager of Maplewood, and three mentioned Miller.

"Some of these things you'd think would be typical of what you'd look for in a city manager," Bacon told the council. She added that she was there to determine its wishes as to how to move forward with the search.

"I'm willing to help," she said, "and I'm pretty sure staff is willing to help."

Bacon also pointed out that if the council members wanted to adapt the job description or change the salary structure for their city manager position, now would be the best time.

Ultimately, the council members agreed to discuss the issue at future meetings before determining specifically how they will conduct the search.

Bacon also reminded the council members of the decision they will need to make regarding whether they want to hire the new city manager or allow a new council to do it after taking office next January.

"Do you want to do it before the elections," Bacon wondered, "or do you want to do it after the elections?"

Copyright 2006, Lillie Suburban Newspapers