Fairfield chooses Cincinnati firm to help find next city manager

Fairfield City Council agreed to hire Management Partners Inc. to conduct a regional search for the next city manager. MICHAEL D. PITMAN / FILE
Fairfield City Council agreed to hire Management Partners Inc. to conduct a regional search for the next city manager. MICHAEL D. PITMAN / FILE

Not all council members were on board with hiring an executive search firm.

Fairfield City Council has picked a firm to find its next city manager nearly a half-year after it accepted the last manager’s resignation.

Council voted 5-2 to contract Management Partners Inc. to conduct an executive search to seek the successor to Mark Wendling, who resigned as city manager on Dec. 11. The city will pay the Cincinnati firm $24,500 plus costs to conduct a regional search.

Council members Tim Abbott and Chad Oberson dissented in the vote.

“All along, I’ve said we have a very strong internal candidate that needed to be interviewed before we start this process,” said Abbott. “This individual has all of the skills for the many ongoing issues that we are facing in our community. He can hit the ground running, he’s got the leadership to do it, and I respect everyone else’s opinion on this matter, but it’s something I had to get out.”

Management Partners expressed early interest in being the city’s search firm, as it was one of two companies that sent an unsolicited request within days of Wendling’s resignation. In a March 2021 proposal, Management Partners President and CEO Jerry Newfarmer said his firm “knows southwest Ohio and has an unrivaled reach throughout the rest of the state and country in local government. The firm has helped with several city manager searches in the state, including Forest Park, Middletown and Montgomery in southwest Ohio.

City Council held a few meetings on the search process in January, including considering a national search for the next city manager. The council eventually paused the search, which Abbott said last month “allowed one of our internal employees the opportunity to shine.”

Other council members complimented the same potential internal candidate but did not identify that person. However, based on council comments, that probable candidate would be Assistant City Manager Scott Timmer, who was promoted to that position in January after serving the city as its finance director since September 2018. He declined to comment.

The decision to consider an executive search firm was made last month when City Council voted 4-3. The three dissenting council members ― Abbott, Oberson and Councilmember Mark Scharringhausen ― wanted to interview the city employee before considering bringing on an outside firm.

Wendling had been with the city since May 2011, first serving as assistant city manager before being promoted in May 2015 to city manager. His resignation was abrupt, though he told the Journal-News at that time the decision had “been brewing for a while.” Fire Chief Don Bennett had been serving as both fire chief and acting city manager since his resignation.