Future candidates for Palo Alto city manager be forewarned: all nine council members might not agree who the city's next top administrator should be.
They even had trouble selecting a headhunter firm to help find one.
The council showed its split mind Monday night, selecting recruiting firm Bob Murray & Associates on a 5-4 vote. Council members Pat Burt, Yoriko Kishimoto, Jack Morton, Yiaway Yeh and Mayor Larry Klein voted to hire Murray.
Murray, based in Roseville, recruited current City Manager Frank Benest and several other top positions in Palo Alto, including a city attorney.
The Waters Consulting Group, represented by Senior Vice President Jerrold Oldani, received the four votes.
The third finalist, Alliance Resource Consulting of Long Beach, was unable to attend Monday's meeting.
Council members did not comment on their preferences and voted immediately after they interviewed the two recruiters.
Murray bid $25,400 for the job, which he estimates will take 16 weeks beginning with an introductory meeting with the council and other involved parties.
Each recruiter gave a short introduction and then answered questions.
Klein asked both recruiters for their opinion on holding interviews in public.
Oldani said he wouldn't recommend it but that it could weed out candidates who were less comfortable with the public process.
Murray said the council should warn candidates the process would be open and to expect that candidates might receive counter offers from their home communities.
High housing costs and a small pool of candidates will make finding the next city manager extra challenging, both recruiters said. Some managers also might not want to work for a city with nine council members, Murray said.
Yet they agreed Palo Alto remains an attractive community.
The council asked how the recruiters would involve residents in the search.
Murray said he would be glad to conduct meetings with community groups and recommended the city host at least one public forum on the issue.
Murray proposed appointing a committee that includes members of several community groups to help winnow down the number of candidates.
He said he would recommend placing ads in professional journals and said he would personally phone top potential candidates.
"Really good candidate's secretaries throw the ads in the garbage and don't let them see the ads," Murray said.
He said he would interview about 10 to 12 candidates and recommend five to seven applicants for interviews with the council.
He said he would start the recruitment in the West and work his way east to find more candidates.
"California cities in the past could say we want to limit recruitment to California alone. I don't think that's a luxury you have of doing anymore," Murray said.
He said it would be possible for qualified managers from other states to learn about the Palo Alto and California laws and regulations.
"Do you have people in mind?," Klein asked both recruiters.
"There are several people I think might be great candidates," Murray said.
Oldani said he has already been receiving calls about the position.
On Feb. 19, the council will meet with Murray to discuss details of the recruitment process, from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
The community will be asked offer opinions about the search and job description on Feb. 25.