Consternation is growing in East Bethel, where the City Council is not renewing the city administrator's contract and the mayor said he will forgo posting the position with plans to appoint somebody he knows to the job.
The move has raised alarms among residents and local leaders, some of whom have aired frustrations on social media suggesting favoritism is playing a role in staffing decisions for the city in Anoka County.
"It is concerning that we have a mayor bringing in their candidate for city administrator without opening it up state- or region- or nationwide for a job paying $160,000 or so. It's a little alarming," Jill Anderson, an East Bethel resident and member of the St. Francis District School Board, said in an interview. "It's important as elected officials that we seek others' opinions. To bring one candidate in is short-sighted."
Mayor Kevin Lewis said at an Oct. 9 council meeting that he had "identified somebody who seems to meet all the criteria fairly well."
Lewis did not name the candidate, saying he had to keep the information private and citing the state Data Practices Act. But he added that "I seriously doubt we could find somebody more qualified for the job, in my honest opinion. I will update you as we go along."
An update was supposed to happen at Monday's council meeting, but Lewis had the item removed from the agenda and there was no further discussion.
Jack Davis has served as city administrator of the far north metro suburb since 2011. Davis, whose contract is up at the end of the year, said he was informed in June that the council "wanted to go in a different direction with my employment."
After that, Davis submitted a letter stating he would leave his position Dec. 5, officially creating the opening for a new city administrator.
"It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the people of East Bethel," he wrote. "I will always remember the relationships I've established and the support I've received during my time with the city."
The city has already seen turnover this year.
When former Mayor Tim Harrington stepped down in June, Lewis, then a council member, was appointed mayor. At that time, the council said it would accept applications to fill Lewis' seat, but had a preferred candidate in mind. The council appointed Lewis' neighbor, Bob DeRoche, to the council.
Council Member Brian Mundle said the council has also rejected two recommended candidates for boards and commissions in favor of other candidates with ties to Lewis.
"Are they going to do it again?" Mundle said.
State law does not require cities to post positions such as the city administrator role, said Amber Eisenschenk, a research manager with the League of Minnesota Cities.
But Mundle said he believes the city should post the job.
Lewis did not respond to an email or telephone message seeking comment. But during the Oct. 9 meeting, he indicated the city administrator job would not be posted.
"If you honestly believe you have someone who is extremely well-qualified, it is almost unfair to everyone to waste their time," he said at the meeting. "Trust me on this. I think you will be pleasantly surprised."