City manager should help recruit replacement

A Feb. 28 Reno Gazette Journal headline posed this question: “Should Reno city manager Sabra Newby recruit her replacement?” The short answer to that is yes, of course, she should.

Newby, who became Reno's city manager in 2017 and recently announced that she intends to leave the post in July, probably shouldn't be the sole decision-maker in the search—but she surely understands better than anyone what the job entails and whatever qualities the best candidates will need. She brought stability to the role after her predecessor's scandal-laden tenure. It would be foolish not to include her in process.

Councilmember Jenny Brekhus advocated for excluding Newby from the recruitment and hiring process. She says that hiring a national recruitment firm—at an expense of about $60,000 to Reno taxpayers—would lend credibility to the search.

Brekhus is often the lone voice of dissent on Reno's city council. It's often great to have an obstinate skeptic on the council—especially when it comes time to resist big-money developers or other corporate interests. At other times, however, Brekhus' default “nay” vote seems to unnecessarily harm city staff. This seems to be one of those latter occasions.

There's bad blood between Brekhus and Newby, as evidenced by the fact that Newby made efforts to limit Brekhus' interactions with staff. (See, “Difficult times,” editorial, Nov. 7, 2019.) Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve implied that Brekhus and her treatment of staff were a motivation for Newby to resign, although Newby's resignation letter itself makes no such implications.

But here's where Brekhus really lost us: “If a city our size thinks we're just going to put an ad in the newspaper for this, it makes us look like a joke,” she said during the meeting.

OK, now that's just going too far.

We, of course,a understand that hiring for a job like city manager involves a degree of headhunting far beyond a simple classified ad, but out-of-the-blue diss comments like that are a sure way to alienate us newspaper folks. Our paper depends on advertising revenue. It is not a joke.

The council seems to have settled on a hybrid approach which will rely on internal staff input and consultation with a national recruiter. Nice to see some compromise. But it's important that Newby, a competent civil servant who knows the job, has a lead role in hiring her own replacement.