Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Messy, messy, messy

Mac Hay has a tough row to hoe.

It’s going to be difficult enough for Sisters’ newly-hired Economic Development manager to work against the economic tide to help the city improve its business climate. Unfortunately, Mac’s starting out dragging the ball-and-chain of a sloppy hiring process that has left many folks angry and suspicious, members of the city council divided and defensive and a large portion of the Sisters community confused.

The clumsy, opaque process that led to Mac’s hiring is a reminder that how things are done can be as important as what is done.

By farming out the hiring process to EDCO (Economic Development for Central Oregon), Mayor Lon Kellstrom hoped to keep the process at “arms length” and avoid the appearance that the council simply kicked the gig to a friend who had been doing economic development work on a volunteer basis through SBART.

It ended up looking that way anyway, with the added taint of EDCO’s unwillingness to give citizens a glimpse into the hiring process, including who sat on the interview panel and whether any were actually from Sisters. Actually, EDCO has legitimate reasons to shield interviewers with anonymity so they won’t be subjected to lobbying and community pressures.

But the Mayor and the council majority might have foreseen that taking this course would lead some people in the community — and not just those active in Sisters politics, either — to think the fix was in.

A considerable constituency is up in arms at the lack of transparency in the hiring process. It won’t be surprising to see some of those who have a dog in the fight in the campaign for city council to show up at City Hall waving the bloody shirt. Already there is a movement afoot to challenge the legitimacy of the Mayor’s actions and therefore the city’s ability to disperse the funds.

I don’t think the Mayor’s actions were taken in bad faith, but it wasn’t very well thought through, even from the standpoint of political self-interest. The council majority has handed their political opponents a stick to beat them over the head with and they’ve saddled their pick with ill will that’s going to take some work to overcome. (Mac is fully aware of that and is already reaching out).

But the hiring process itself isn’t really the biggest problem.

The City of Sisters is investing $30,000 into economic development without any metrics in place for determining if the money is well spent. If Mac lands a company or two in the next year that bring a bunch of jobs, success will be obvious. But even the most optimistic don’t expect that to happen by the time the contract runs out.

Progress is likely to be incremental and hard to define. It’s too much money to treat casually, but not really enough to get serious, long-term work done. This project is likely to take several years to bear fruit, and it’s going to have to have buy-in — in a literal sense — from the private sector. Private parties are going to have to come in with financial support to sustain the project. City taxpayers cannot and should not be expected to foot the bill on their own indefinitely.

Everyone involved needs “deliverables” in order to determine if a particular course is working or if there needs to be a change of direction — or if we need to pull the plug.

Mac is a good man, with a lot of passion for the work. He’s good with people and my last few conversations with him indicate that he is open to a wide-ranging understanding of what economic vitality means and how we might pursue it.

Hopefully he will create his own rigorous performance measurements. It’s in his own interests to do so. Without real metrics, he won’t be able to bring on more support and he’ll never convince skeptics than this project is anything more than a boondoggle pursued so that the council can say “we’re doing something!”

There is no doubt that those who are flat pissed off about the way this all went down will flog the issue through the election. For them, it is a signal example of the problems with the way the council majority operates.

But in the end, Mac Hay will be in place as Economic Development Manager and the $30,000 will be spent. It is in everyone’s interest that the project succeed. Will the “opposition” continue to stand off and throw rocks, or will they bend Mac’s ear and try to shape the direction of the project?

Hopefully, after the dust has settled from the election, Sisters’ new Economic Development Manager can start pulling people together, defining goals and get some real work done.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. I think it is certainly reasonable for EDCO to shield the interview panel throughout the process, but once complete there is no justification for refusing to disclose all the details. If the process was “open, fair, and unbiased” as Roger Lee (EDCO) has claimed, and the entire affair was “arms length”, as the Mayor has stated, then why not open it up for review? Taxpayers and voters are not required to simply take the word of elected officials or those in positions of trusts. I am sure May Hay will work to the best of his abilities, but why force him to start under a cloud of suspicion?

  2. Jim, you're wrong on one very important point.

    EDCO, the Mayor, and Mac Hay have absolutely no justifiable reason for not disclosing those on the interview panel after the decision was made to offer the gig to Mac Hay. How can lobbying after the fact be relevant? That said, EDCO, the Mayor, and Mac Hay have to date refused to name the panelists. Clearly, the council majority believes the political fallout from stonewalling will be less damaging than disclosure. That's a big problem for those of us interested in transparency and open government.

  3. Mr. Lee can claim the process was "open, fair and unbiased" but we will never know, will we ! I guess we are just going to have to TRUST him ... Gosh we hear that allot lately don't we :)

  4. I think many of us may be thinking that EDCO leaders select entirely different interviewers each time something like this turns up. If that were the case, knowing the interviewers may not be harmful for EDCO in the near future.
    But what if they select the interviewers/decision makers from a short list of trusted/thoughtful people, and would expect to be able to use these same folks for future activities as well. It wouldn't take many such activities, by releasing the names, before outsiders could/would come up with a pretty complete list.
    Once the people on those lists begin getting calls or letters "of support" for a particular interview candidate or process to be considered,they can no longer do the job that needs to be done.
    I'm sure it is EDCO's long held decision, not the local Mayor or anyone in the city government, to always withhold the specific people responsible for a decision. That's truly the only way EDCO can remain viable and can give us their decision free of outside influence.

  5. Virginia:

    In the voter's guide you claim to have been a procurement executive with several large high-tech companies.

    Assume your purchasing people put out a request for bid to design a custom logic board, received multiple responses, evaluated the responses and the capabilities of the respondents, made a decision as to the best overall bid and executed a contract. Given that hypothetical, based on what you've said it would be acceptable to you if your people refused to disclose anything whatsoever about how they arrived at the decision to select the vender that won the contract. Is my understanding of your position correct?

    If it is you have no business being a procurement executive and no business serving on a public board or council. My comments may be harsh but you can't conduct private or public business that way.

  6. We can take different sides of an issue. We can agree to disagree. But government of the people, by the people, and for the people must remain open to scrutiny and transparent through and through. JFK correctly stated that “The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings.”

  7. Dear Mike,

    There are many different types of bids. There are the Federal Government’s IFBs (Invitation For Bid) and RFQs (Request For Quotation) which my purchasing staff and typically members from the engineering, manufacturing, and marketing departments would work up the prices within we could meet the requirements of the items to be procured. This experience included when I worked for such companies as General Dynamics and Don Lee Electronics.
    The IFBs were opened in public, for whoever wished to attend the opening, and, in addition, every bidder was identified and the bid amount was announced and made public. There were also the RFQs, wherein the government could choose the successful bidder by their standards as to the company's qualifications. If there were no companies quoting that satisfied their requirements, (either by their qualifications or that the price was not within the government’s estimates) they could cancel the requirement and resubmit the RFQ at a later date or pre-select certain qualified vendors only to quote.
    Private companies, on the other hand, have no such requirements placed on them to identify either the product out for bid, the names of bidders submitting quotes, or the prices quoted.
    Regarding bids our company would send out, such as those requiring purchasing a critical product such as you mentioned, (a custom logic board or an ASIC as two examples), our staff would pre-select certain vendors which we had sufficient knowledge of in regard to their qualifications and experience in the building of the needed product in question.
    If however, in a situation wherein we were considering interesting but unfamiliar vendors, we would form a team made up of a representative from our engineering, purchasing, manufacturing engineering, and quality departments to visit the top two or three quoting companies for an on site visit of their facility itself. Each of our department representatives would have certain specific departments to check and grade, and also interview certain management personnel that would ultimately be responsible for the product, etc. The decision would then be decided upon based on our analysis and final report.
    I hope this clarifies your concerns.

  8. Virginia:

    You have missed my point completely.

    I understand the processes used by high tech firms to find and select qualified vendors. I've been an operations vp for small to midsize Silicon Valley companies, both private and publically traded.

    The point I was making was that your first post suggests you think it acceptable for your procurement organization to refuse to disclose to you and your management anything whatsoever about the process and criteria used to select a qualified vendor.

    This is exactely what's happened regarding EDCO's recommendation to the city to contract with Mac Hay for EDD services. Edco, the Mayor, and Mac Hay to date refuse to disclose anything about a process that was conceived and directed to be used exclusively by the Mayor.

    The city has an approved policy for contracting out services. Do you think what was done regarding the EDD complies with that policy?
    If that's the better was to find a qualified vendor why not use the same process for contracting out city construction jobs? That way the city could keep everything it does secret and pesky people like me wouln't be able to see and ask questions. Is this how you think all government should work, treat everything like contracting with the CIA on a black budget?

  9. I can see no reason what soe ever for having any kind of secrecy at all for any process involved in public hiring.

    It is important for the public to know who is deciding because of the issue of lobbying. If you dont know who is interviewing, then you cant know if they have been lobbied. Some one knows who they are, which means someone can influence them, like it or not.

    Openness is the only cure for back handed dealings and improper influence. Secrecy can only lead to corruption. It has never prevented it.

  10. Very well said. It does not matter what your personal politcs are; liberal or conservative, secrecy leads to tyranny and oppression and has no place in a free democratic society.

    If we can't make government tranparent in this little town we're doomed; there's no chance of fixing the mess in Salem and Washington D.C.