Commissioners meeting

Bozeman City Hall Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019.

The next person who leads the city of Bozeman needs to be ready for a changing town with a growing population, city commissioners said Monday.

Commissioners described what they want to see from people applying to be Bozeman’s next city manager — the job charged with leading more than 400 city employees.

Mayor Chris Mehl pointed out Bozeman’s preparing for a U.S. Census count that’s expected to tally the city’s population beyond 50,000. That would change the federal funding Bozeman receives and put more pressure on regional planning.

“We were actually affectionately known as cow town because of the land-grant school and that’s changed,” Mehl said. “While we embrace being the city, I think in some levels this would a real opportunity for this person to leave their mark.”

The city lost its last city manager in December when Andrea Surratt left after roughly two years on the job. She cited a need to be closer to family and higher pay in a larger city. Dennis Taylor, a Helena resident with experience in local government, stepped in as interim the same month.

Bozeman hired CPS HR Consulting to lead the search for a new manager. Josh Jones, of CPS HR, said Monday Bozeman’s search could wrap up as early as March.

City commissioners said they want a candidate who understands housing issues, exponential population growth and balancing priorities with a long to-do list including daily responsibilities and long-term projects like building a climate action plan.

“I believe that the city manager needs to have a solid backbone,” Commissioner Terry Cunningham said. “Being comfortable discussing uncomfortable issues is important, being comfortable with saying no or at least saying ‘if that’s added to my plate, or the city’s plate, here’s what we need to remove or the resources we need to add.’”

Commissioners also said they want a city manager who can work with neighboring government agencies like the city of Belgrade and Gallatin County. Deputy Mayor Cyndy Andrus said the city has not always had the “best success” with those relationships.

Commissioners also listed Bozeman’s selling points. Bozeman is a university town in a valley surrounded by mountains. They described it as a place people like to raise their kids, start a business or retire. They said people in town are plugged into what the city does, which a city manager also needs to be ready for.

Cunningham asked Jones if there was anything he saw or read that would work against Bozeman in the search.

Jones said one challenge will be making sure candidates have an idea of Bozeman what could become, not “what Bozeman was.”

He said those interested in the job will also likely research the city of Bozeman online, read news coverage and call the city’s past managers to ask about their experience.

“As the recruiter, that’s something that I’m going to be working with candidates on,” Jones said. “If they have any questions or concerns about anything in the media or from past city managers, I’ll try to convey to them the most truthful, accurate but also favorable information so that I can to put them at ease.”

During Surratt’s last week on the job, commissioners met with the outgoing city manager for a last-minute special meeting to double down on Bozeman’s form of government.

In that meeting, commissioners said they stepped out of line by talking with or directing staff in ways they shouldn’t have. As Bozeman’s government is set up, commissioners make the policy and the city manager leads city staff — a line Surratt said commissioners had sometimes pushed.

Andrus — who called for that meeting last month — said the next person on the job needs to recognize the city’s city manager-led form of government.

“We are all equal in our ability to receive info and vote,” she said describing commissioners. “Their understanding of how this form of government works I think is really important.”

Katheryn Houghton can be reached at khoughton@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2628.

Support quality local journalism. Become a subscriber.

Subscribers get full, survey-free access to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's award-winning coverage both on our website and in our e-edition, a digital replica of the print edition.