Langley council, mayor clash over hiring protocol

The city of Langley will soon be hiring a new finance director / city clerk, two jobs that have shared the same position for several years.

Debbie Mahler, who currently fills the dual role, is set to retire this May.

During a city council meeting Monday night, Council Member Dominique Emerson brought to the council’s attention her concerns about not having a hiring committee to interview applicants for the position.

“To me, this is the most important job that could possibly be happening to Langley, far and above anyone in this room,” she said, adding that the newly hired person will carry “the jewels of the city.”

She advocated for a hiring protocol to be written down and codified. Council Members Thomas Gill and Peter Morton agreed.

“My thought is that this needs to be something we’re doing for future hires, but I think we’re too late to stop dead in the river here,” Gill said.

Emerson also expressed concern that the finance director / city clerk position hadn’t been advertised enough. Mahler said it was advertised in the South Whidbey Record and on the websites for the city and the Association of Washington Cities.

The hiring process has already begun, and two applicants will be interviewed next week.

Emerson pointed out that a panel selected the current planning department head, Brigid Reynolds. Police Chief Don Lauer was also selected by a panel.

Mayor Tim Callison explained that it was not codified anywhere that the mayor should convene a hiring panel, but that it had been his own personal decision to do so in both cases. He said he had wanted to make sure the community planning director was acceptable to the general community, and the same with the police chief.

“The reason that we had an interview panel for the chief was because we’d gone through that level of turmoil, and we wanted to make sure that we had a good fit,” Callison said.

He will be doing the hiring and said that he will be considering personality and ability to get along with him.

Emerson countered that there are advantages to having a panel with a diversity of thoughts and opinions.

“With due respect, it’s not just you and someone you get along with, it’s future mayors, it’s future councils,” she said. “And it’s that future that has gotten planners and police chiefs and everyone into trouble.”

Callison assured the council that whoever he chooses will be his “right hand” and extremely capable. Council members will have the opportunity to turn down the candidate when they are brought before them for approval.