City Manager Association of Oklahoma urges city of Durant to adopt secret hiring process

City Manager Association of Oklahoma urges city of Durant to adopt secret hiring process


The City Manager Association of Oklahoma is urging the Durant City Council to keep secret the names of applicants for city manager and to conduct interviews with the candidates behind closed doors.

Disclosing the names would “discourage good and qualified candidates from applying for vacant positions,” according to a resolution the City Manager Association submitted to the City Council.

The resolution also encourages “all City Manager applicants … to submit this resolution with their application to inform municipalities of the importance of this issue for the profession in Oklahoma.”

The City Council is scheduled to vote during a special meeting at 10 a.m. Monday on keeping the applicant names secret unless the applicant approves of the disclosure in writing. (Resolution 2019-21(4))

Our state open government laws permit this secrecy by the city. Under the Open Records Act, government entities may keep confidential the applications of people not hired. (Okla. Stat. tit. 51, § 24A.7(A)(2))  Under the Open Meeting Act, public bodies may meet in executive session to discuss the hiring of individual employees when discussing specific individuals. Such an agenda must clearly identify the specific position to be filled. But because the person is not yet an employee, the statute doesn't require that the agenda identify the individual.

But those laws also allow for the City Council to be more open in the process.

It's not good government for public bodies to keep secret the names of applicants for important jobs. At the very least, the names of the top candidates for city manager should be made public so the residents can judge their qualifications, strengths and weaknesses.

 An open process would build public trust and a feeling of ownership in the City Council's final selection. It would set the tone for that city manager's tenure. Start with a culture of openness, not secrecy.

 An open process also could reveal problems that -- when known after the hiring -- would destroy public confidence in the city manager. The council should learn that lesson from secret presidential searches in higher education.

 The Durant Democrat, in calling today for the names to be made public, took issue with the City Manager Association’s contention that a secret process is in the public’s interest.

 The newspaper noted the lack of evidence that a secret process draws better-qualified candidates than a public process does. It also pointed out that the city of Norman recently hired a city manager after making public its list of six finalists.

 “City Councils are not elected to look out for the interests of public employee hopefuls or their professional organizations,” the newspaper said. “It is a City Council’s job to protect the interests of taxpayers. And it takes a bit of hubris to make the claim that keeping secrets from taxpayers is actually good for the taxpayers.”

 See also Michael Clements, Durant to kick off city manager search, Durant Democrat, July 20, 2019.

Joey Senat, Ph.D., Associate Professor, OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

@Joey_Senat / Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma / Our Right to Know in Oklahoma