The four finalists for assistant city manager brought diversity and familiarity to the table Monday during a public reception at the Hilton Garden Inn and Conference Center.
All of the candidates complimented Manhattan residents on their hospitality and all wanted to be a part of the friendly atmosphere. Three, Adam Bentley, Christina Burns and Michael “Brent” Stockwell, emphasized connections to Kansas. All four also noted their familiarity with college towns.
Bentley, Burns, Stockwell and Joseph Cronin are seeking to replace Lauren Palmer, who left earlier this year to accept a city manager’s position in Parkville, Mo. All four are in upper level administrative positions, Burns and Cronin in suburbs, Bentley and Stockwell in larger communities.
All four said they want to live in Manhattan for the same reason: it is a growing, vibrant college town with a lot to offer culturally, economically and socially.
The four took part in an internal interview and selection process Monday morning that included giving each a problem to solve—Fake Patty’s Day.
City manager Ron Fehr is expected to make a choice in the near future.
Here’s a brief synopsis of what each had to say.
Bentley grew up in Iowa City, Iowa, home of the University of Iowa, and is the administrative assistant to the city manager there.
“I find [college towns] culturally exciting, they’re vibrant … and it’s just a very appealing environment,” Bentley said.
He said he believes the quality of life in Manhattan is a draw. Bentley identified three factors that drive a city: a big capital, a big university or a fort. He said Manhattan has two of the three, making it a great economic-driven community.
A participant in the City of Wichita’s Management Fellowship program, designed for aspiring local government managers, he said he enjoyed his year there and hopes to move back to Kansas permanently. He said he also has family in Kansas. Bentley has a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Northern Iowa.
Burns, who grew up in Newton, said she misses the wide-open spaces and reduced traffic compared to Clarendon Hills, Ill., a Chicago suburb where she is assistant to the village manager.
Burns said she has a background in journalism covering local government. But she wasn’t satisfied with just covering local government, so she returned to school to be able to work in public administration.
Burns said Clarendon Hills shares many of the same challenges that Manhattan has: economic stability, housing stability, and future planning. She said she wants to focus on making sure to bring businesses into the community that complement Manhattan.
She was previously administrative/planning intern for Glen Ellyn, Ill., and has a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Illinois University.
The only candidate to have never set foot inside the state before this weekend, Cronin almost didn’t make it due to engine trouble aboard his flight. Arriving late, he got a small tour Monday morning.
He echoed sentiments from Bentley and Burns that Manhattan is a great place to live and that was the kind of place he wants to live and work.
” I have a special place in my heart for universities, having lived in Columbia, South Carolina,” he said. Like Manhattan, Columbia has a fort and a major university, and he said those elements add a different dynamic to the community.
Cronin is familiar with working with both city and county administration. He currently works as assistant town manager and planning director at Fort Mill, S.C., but prior to that he worked for the county in a similar capacity. He served as research division manager at Richland County, S.C., of which Columbia is county seat. He characterized Fort Mill as a bedroom community for Charlotte, N.C., that is working to improve economic development in order to keep its residents in town rather than driving to the big city.
Cronin has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of South Carolina.
Michael “Brent” Stockwell
Stockwell grew up in what he described as a college town “down river” from Manhattan – that would be KU – but he graduated from K-State. He said he has been living in Arizona for 20 years, but wants to “come home.” He said he considers Manhattan more “homey” than home in Kansas.
Stockwell is strategic initiatives director in Scottsdale, Ariz., outside Phoenix. He said he has had the “distinct un-pleasure” of balancing a $28 million budget deficit, but has also worked with regional governing bodies on various projects, including a nationally recognized drug coalition. He has also worked with city staff members on ethics training.
“I communicate clearly to encourage understanding,” he said. “I serve others with compassion to meet their needs, and I thank people with resources to help them succeed. I also exceed expectations with excellent response and I think strategically to solve problems and improve service. I also advocate for those who feel unheard, ignored or misunderstood.”
Stockwell has a master’s degree in public affairs, municipal management and finance from the University of Washington.