Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, July 22, 2010

As Plainfield Council, job candidates eye each other

Judging a candidate's qualifications

Plainfield's City Council is expected to meet and interview on Wednesday candidates being offered the City's top two financial posts (Certified Municipal Finance Officer and Director of Administration & Finance) by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Such situations are fraught with difficulties for both interviewers and interviewees.

Over the years since her very first nominations (which Robinson-Briggs demanded the Council accept without benefit of interviews or resum├ęs, with very unhappy consequences all around), the Council has more and more strongly asserted its role in the 'advise and consent' process.

That reached a high point last year in which the Mayor dropped a nomination for CMFO when the Council failed to give consent (questions about experience had surfaced publicly beforehand).

Having been part of groups -- nonprofits, church and government -- charged with making hiring recommendations concerning key employees, I have always been intrigued by the process and why the outcomes often leave all parties more or less dissatisfied.

Herewith some observations that may be helpful to both the Council and the candidates --


Who is better qualified to get things done, to execute the organization's mission, the 'charming, smart and impressive' person who makes you feel comfortable (the 'prince') or the awkward, intense but often monosyllabicly inclined person who is happiest getting the job done and not in spending time 'selling' themselves (the 'grind')?

David Brooks of the New York Times took the matter up in a recent OpEd (see here), which I think illustrates the dilemma.

He suggests we are tempted to be seduced by the 'princes' and that is a mistake. Though he is not talking directly about the choices facing the Council, I think his advice is spot on and helps to illuminate the problems faced by both interviewers and interviewees.

Understanding the dynamic may be the key to dealing with it.


Besides meeting any formal qualifications (certifications, education, etc.), one of the key pieces of information deciders look for is: Will this person be able to DO THE JOB? Experience counts, but can anyone possibly have the range of experience that either of these positions entails?

In the case of the CMFO, what if the candidate hasn't dealt with a situation with Plainfield's size or complexity? Or if they previously had a MORE DEMANDING job, why the interest in Plainfield? Or maybe they're qualified but have NO REAL EXPERIENCE. The Council certainly has its hands full deciding, though having a CMFO among its members (Councilor Mapp) should be very helpful.

As for the
Director of Administration & Finance, Plainfield's unique blend of managing both the financial side of things (purchasing, audit & control, tax assessment and collection) and the City's social services (from WIC to the Senior Center to Plainfield Action Services to the Health Division), demands a breadth of knowledge and experience that few, if any, other communities must contend with in filling their top jobs.

Can any candidate possess the full range of skills and experience Plainfield demands? If not, how can the relative strengths and weaknesses be addressed? And how will the Council know what a wise decision is?

Interview Poker

Among the constant whines from supporters of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs is that viable candidates have shied away from Plainfield because of a) a fractious political climate, and b) non-competitive salaries.

To those who argue that Plainfield is chintzy on the salary side, I say: Show me the numbers. Give everyone chapter and verse about how poorly Plainfield compares to other, SIMILAR situations. I don't think we will show up as shabby as some say. Also, folks should be aware we are in a DEEP RECESSION, and the public has no great interest in seeing public servants given juicy salaries in addition to plum medical and retirement benefits. I think that one is a CANARD.

As for the argument that a fractious political climate would influence the willingness of someone to take a job in Plainfield, we have to ask why it could be said there is political friction.

During the recess at Monday's Council meeting, I chatted with another observer of the Plainfield scene who suggested that the sharp questioning by citizens (including bloggers) and the Council act as a deterrent on possible job candidates.

Could things be a little more well-managed and less contentious if the Robinson-Briggs administration were more transparent, more forthright, and more timely in the business of governing the City?

Would it be helpful if less time were spent by the Administration in obfuscation, dithering, and delay?

Things looked like they would change when Mayor Robinson-Briggs appointed Bibi Taylor as City Administrator. She is smart, makes herself well-informed, and can be decisive. However, recent months have seen her mounting the barricades in defense of the Mayor (as well she must) in clashes with the Council over pressing the Administration to move city business forward -- particularly, but not exclusively, the two job slots under consideration now.

At the same time, with Taylor actually filling THREE job responsibilities, we learn that Mayor Robinson-Briggs has cut back her administrative support staff.

These are the kinds of questions that ought to be on the minds of the applicants who will sit across from the Council on Wednesday evening.

Take the CMFO, whose certification constitutes a license-to-make-a-living. Will Mayor Robinson-Briggs PUBLICLY STATE that she will not meddle or interfere with them in the execution of their job, that she will not ask for special considerations or that any directives of the State be circumvented or countermanded? That would go a long way to making the job offer more attractive, don't you think? What are the chances that will happen?

As for the
Director of Administration & Finance, who serves AT THE PLEASURE OF THE MAYOR, a lot of mental juggling has to be going on to consider accepting such an appointment. Is the possibility of being out of a job in 3½ years at the end of the Mayor's term a deterrent? Or the real possibility of being forced out earlier in a contest of wills with Robinson-Briggs? Would any of this be worth giving up a presently-held job? How much will I have to scramble to learn the unfamiliar parts of the management portfolio, and how will I be judged while I'm getting up to speed?

There will certainly be a lot going through the minds of the candidates as they meet with the Council.

Can Council members get past looking to be made comfortable and figure out if the persons being interviewed will decently perform the job and advance the City's performance?

Can the interviewees get past the pressure to 'sell' themselves and candidly and fearlessly express their ideas about what needs to be done?

Let us hope so, for Plainfield's sake.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

The mayor shows daily how inept she is. Your city admin is doing 3 jobs and you take away her support? This is the kind of mentality running this city?

I think the council should look at the mayor's role and responsibility and see if she is out of bounds.

And one more thing. The council took a pay cut, the mayor laid off people - has the mayor taken a pay cut? Poor leadership, poor management, poor Plainfield.

Anonymous said...

The mayor sucks! There I said it.
The only reason why she's still in office is because of her BLIND FOLLOWERS. Why do they follow her?? Heck if I know, but I've never voted for her, most of the other people I know didn't vote for her, so who's voting for her?
I'll tell you. People voting for her because of personal reasons or they're just too darn illiterate to read what's going on in town. I'm soooooooo frustrated with her, Jerry Green and Dave Wynn.
Bring the State in! It's time!

Anonymous said...

I see you have become the amplifier for McWilliams.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Damon, you are certainly doing your part to help make sure nobody wants to come work for our city. They probably read your blog too.

Rob said...

Ok..if the reason someone didn't take a city job was because of the blogs..that means they are the same type of person as Mayor Jerry or Assistant Mayor Sharon but with the ounce of shame and sliver of common sense those 2 lack...
- Plus I am sure with all the HUNDREDS of candidates that Sharon POURED DILIGENTLY OVER THEIR APPLICATIONS she will have gone out of her way to find someone lacking any self respect or shame, like her, so that they have no problem looking at themselves in the mirror in the morning...

Anonymous said...

To 12:51 and 12:57,
Are you serious? Plainfield is going to hell in a hand basket, people are losing their jobs, the State has gotten involved with the CFO issue and the school board and shootings/murders occur weekly. These are just a few issues that this administration refuses to address and you think that Annie and Dan are the problem?
The council and public observers need to hold the Administration's feet to the fire, non-stop! If there is any hope of making progress, it will come in the form of change by the Mayor or change in the Mayor and her Boss.
This will only happen when the public sees for themselves that Sharon and Jerry are frauds. That will only happen by exposing their ineptness through constant pressure from anyone and everyone who cares.
In the past, the council was unwilling to do this so the “bloggers were the problem”. Now, the council has the right mix of people to expect and demand more and now “they are the problem”? If no one is willing to step up and challenge Sharon and Jerry to make Plainfield better, then Plainfield might as well concede the city to the gangs and the non-contributing hangers on.

Anonymous said...

Please 7/22 @12:57PM. Anyone who'd consider taking a job in Plainfield knows what they are getting into. It has nothing to do with Bloggers postings. Gee, get a grip please. Wil

Anonymous said...

The city does not control the schools, the schools are a separate and independent entity controlled by an elected board. Therefore the state of the schools is something you can't blame the city administration for, much as you would like to.

Anonymous said...

The Mayor is despicable, she not only lacks commonsense, but she lacks a formal education. That lack of education is not only glaring, but is hurting our city. She is ill prepared to lead this city into the future. If any quality candidates are concerned about coming to Plainfield it is because there is a good chance that they will be asked to do something immoral or illegal. As for Dave Wynn can someone pleases remind me why he is on the payroll? What purpose is he serving for the salary that he gets? How many members of his family are on Plainfield’s payroll? Anyone have an answer?

Dan said...

@ 9:04 AM -- I don't know what the mayor's educational experience is, but I suspect it is more than 'none', so I would give her a break on that part. However, it does seem that she lacks common sense (think of the embarrassment of saying Bibi Taylor wasn't available and then hiring her just weeks later, or coming to the Council with a proposal to bond $5.5M to buy the YWCA when all she ever had with them was a private, preliminary conversation (and then blame it on a 'clerical error').

You can find plenty of inept and corrupt elected officials throughout NJ with probably more education than the Mayor, so that alone cannot be 'the' reason.