The unanimous choice of the search committee and mayor for Davenport's new city administrator appears to be well on his way to city-council confir mation next week. Craig Malin, currently the county administrator in Douglas County, Wisconsin, has wide support among Davenport city-council members surveyed by the River Cities' Reader.

Eight aldermen told the River Cities' Reader that they plan to vote to confirm Malin on July 2, although several expressed mild concerns or said they still needed more information. (Aldermen George Nickolas and Roland Caldwell did not return multiple phone messages.)

Aldermen Roxanna Moritz, Ed Brown, Ray Ambrose, Wayne Hean, and Steve Ahrens were unequivocal in their support. "I'm going to support bringing him on board," Ambrose said. "He seems to be a perfect match for Davenport. ... He'll set the standard for the rest of the city."

The search committee picked three finalists from a pool of 58 applicants, and two of those candidates were interviewed in public sessions earlier this month. The search committee unanimously recommended the 38-year-old Malin over Richard Hierstein, city manager of Pekin, Illinois, and Mayor Phil Yerington officially put Malin's name up for appointment last week. Confirmation of the choice will require a two-thirds vote of the city council - seven members.

The search committee employed the help of a professional association of city managers, along with city consultant Sy Murray, to help develop the professional criteria used in considering the 58 candidates who responded to the recruitment notices. The profile included qualifications necessary for any top-notch city administrator, but also characteristics specifically geared to Davenport's needs.

According to search committee member John Stavnes, Malin stood out because of his "leadership skills, ability to communicate across lines in an organization, and experiences in dealing with challenges similar to those we face in Davenport."

Past problems within Davenport city hall have included significant breakdown in communication, especially between the city administrator and department heads, as well as between the administrator and elected officials. Stavnes explained that throughout the interview process, "Mr. Malin was asked to describe such challenges and how he dealt with them. He answered the inquiries with flying colors."

Of the search process, Stavnes commented, "I do wonder if we should have proactively hired a professional search firm to look for a possible candidate who perhaps was not looking for a new position, but who might have been a match made in heaven. Regardless, out of the 58 candidates we did consider, there is no doubt Craig Malin is the clear choice. I am proud of the process we undertook. We dug as deep and as broad as we possibly could. The result is that if the universe were these 58 candidates, then we absolutely have the winner."

Alderman have generally been as high on Malin as the search committee.

"He's a fair and equitable person," Hean said. "I don't think he could be controlled by any one special interest group."

Hean was also impressed by Malin's willingness to work with people and his problem-solving skills. "He loves to walk into a room of angry people," Hean said. "The problem and the solution are in that room."

Malin's ability to find solutions also earned high marks with Moritz. When the county where he works was having trouble with skateboarding kids, Malin spent an afternoon with them. Out of that grew a skate-park project. "He's got the ability to think more openly than rigidly," she said.

Ahrens said he has no doubt that Malin will thrive in a community that's larger than those from which he came. "He is well-rounded and has a lot of experience," he said. "There are obvious differences in experiences, but the process of dealing with people is the same." Hean said Malin's intergovernmental experience at the county level has prepared him well for Davenport.

Brown said in an e-mail that he supports Malin's appointment but wants to ensure that his contract does not include a generous severance package, such as the one paid to former city administrator Jim Pierce when he was forced out of the position last year.

Other city-council members gave Malin more hesitant support. Aldermen Bill Sherwood, Bob McGivern, and Tom Engelmann said they are leaning toward supporting Malin.

"I'm close," Sherwood said last week. "I'm not quite there." Sherwood said he still had questions about Malin's resignation as assistant city manager of Vernon Hills, Illinois, two years ago, after 11 years on the job.

In his public interview, Malin said only that he was asked to do something by the city council that he disagreed with and chose to resign instead. "I could not fully answer that question in a public forum," he told the River Cities' Reader.

Sherwood said that he has gotten a more detailed version of the story from Malin, and "if that holds up, I would support his judgment in the matter."

Yerington also discussed the issue with Malin. The appointee's response "was satisfactory to me," Yerington said. The mayor said that he did not attempt to confirm Malin's version of events. "A follow-up phone call doesn't show a lot of trust," he said.

(Malin also discussed the issue of his departure from Vernon Hills with the River Cities' Reader but asked that the details of the situation not be made public because they involve personnel matters.)

Hean, Moritz, and Ahrens - aldermen who fully support Malin - said they would also like to know more about Malin's resignation before they vote. "I have not heard precisely what that issue was," Ahrens said. "I would like to know."

"I'm curious," Moritz said, "but I don't think it would affect me bringing him here."

Sherwood also said he's uncertain how Malin will handle managing a city of this size; in terms of population, Vernon Hills (22,500 residents) and Douglas County (50,000 residents) are much smaller than Davenport. The alderman said he hopes that Malin can "grow" into Davenport.

Malin said his transition from Vernon Hills to Douglas County involved more new issues than his likely re-location to Davenport. For that shift, he was moving from city to county government, to a new state, from an assistant's position to county administrator, and to a place with a different organization and socioeconomic composition.

He also said national awards he earned at both the city and county level show his skills. "I don't know what else I could do to prove my competency," he said.

Sherwood said he liked Malin's "common touch" and ability to identify and communicate with citizens. He said Malin would be able to reach out to neighborhoods and the business community.

McGivern also said he'll likely support the mayor's choice, in spite of his own questions. "I'm sure that I'll vote for Mr. Malin," he said.

The alderman's reservations tend to fall into the realm of management style but also go back to Malin's resignation. McGivern said he wants to hear how Malin will work with the mayor and city council: "How do you say no to an elected official?" he asked. He also said he would like to know how Malin keeps employees focused. "He didn't answer that very well in the interview," he said.

(Malin did not field questions in his public interview about keeping employees "focused," but he did discuss his views of management, including his insistence on regular employee evaluations and his distaste for "autocratic" department heads and their effect on morale.)

Engelmann said he has no specific reservations but is waiting to hear what other council members say before making up his mind. "I would say I'm leaning to support him," he said. Engelmann said he was impressed that Malin has been involved in government reorganization, "which is important to me."

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