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Haney to fill in during search for new administrator

On Thursday, colleagues and community members gathered at City Hall to say goodbye to outgoing City Administrator Mary Jo Briggs.

On Friday, the city announced her interim replacement – Police Chief Matt Haney – who will fill Briggs' role until a permanent administrator is hired sometime before April 1.

"This is about helping the city to keep moving forward with its business," said Haney, who on Monday will shift his office temporarily from the police station to City Hall.

In the meantime, Deputy Police Chief Mark Duncan will act in Haney's stead.

Haney said his specific responsibilities as administrator will be clarified next week, when he officially takes over.

"We're still working through that," he said. "Obviously I can't step in and do exactly what Mary Jo did – I don't have that breadth of experience."

Citing ongoing strife between the City Council, mayor and staff, Briggs announced her resignation in July, but agreed to stay on board at the city until Jan. 31. A headhunter firm was hired to search for her successor shortly after she announced she was leaving. Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said the city had hoped to have someone in place before Briggs left, but the process slowed in the fall as leaders discussed reasons for the ongoing dysfunction at City Hall. The decision eventually was made to wait to make the hire until the new council was in place.

The field of candidates has been narrowed to seven, Kordonowy said. Interviews are scheduled for the third week of February.

Around the same time, the city will host a public reception, at which community members will get the chance to meet finalists for the position. A firmer schedule will be established next week, after officials meet in executive session prior to Wednesday's special City Council meeting to discuss the new administrator's contract and the hiring process.

Councilwoman Debbie Vancil on Friday said she's felt disconnected from that process. She said reports to the council about milestones along the way – including Haney's appointment – too often have come from the press or local blogs before they've come from Kordonowy.

"The mayor makes a lot of noise about working with the council," Vancil said. "But most of the time we're out of the loop – we don't know what's going on.

"This isn't an isolated circumstance," she said. "This is just one more example of why we have so many problems working together."

Department directors have in the past have filled in for the city administrator during absences; interim administrators have been tabbed as well, including in the period between Briggs arrival in 2004 and the departure of her predecessor, Lynn Nordby.

Haney is expected to serve in the role for one to two months, depending on how soon the permanent administrator can start working.

"It will be a great learning experience," Haney said of his role. "I'm looking forward to getting to see more closely how the other departments work.

I will be relying a great deal on everyone else, but I'll be doing what I can to make other people's jobs easier."

The job opening was advertised through 15 western states by the Prothman Company, the firm in charge of the search. The position pays as much as $160,000 annually. Kordonowy said Briggs will be missed.

"Mary Jo is leaving us with a more effective organization than we were three and a half years ago," she said, " and a wonderful legacy of working together as a team – a legacy we will honor by continuing our commitment of working collaboratively and collegially."

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