By Jessica Mathews /

The process to fund a new Howell City Clerk is moving along and some initial candidate interviews are to take place this week.

After 16 years of service, Clerk Jane Cartwright earlier provided notice of her retirement on or around March 1st and has been aiding in the search for her replacement. A search was earlier initiated and at Monday night’s virtual Council meeting, it was reported that Manager Paul Debuff and Cartwright have been reviewing applicants but the City’s new HR generalist will also be involved. Cartwright had been serving in the dual position of Human Resources director. Basic informational interviews that would be around 30 minutes each will be held with ten candidates today and tomorrow. DeBuff told Council they’ve done a lot of advertising and currently have four applicants with direct experience as clerk or deputy clerk. He said some looked good and there are six that might have a relevant skill set so he’s been having conversations with Cartwright about how long it would take to get someone up to speed.

Some on Council expressed that they would be open to interviewing a single lone candidate if qualified or someone could grow into it while others preferred to see a handful give or take.

Mayor Pro-Tem Steve Manor told Council he read through some 40 applications at City Hall last Friday and felt a few looked worth talking to. Manor said his preference would be to see more than one candidate and suggested starting the search over if there aren’t enough – stressing he wants to see clerk election experience but particularly election experience. Manor commented that elections are so important given the last couple of years and having someone who knows how to run an election and has good or reasonable experience in that area is important – which is why he’s appreciated Cartwright’s service so much.

In reviewing the applications, Manor noted some pushed their extensive political experience in running campaigns. He stated he doesn’t want any heavily overt partisan person in the position as Council is not a partisan body. Mayor Nick Proctor agreed and said he preferred to keep Council interviews to three or four candidates but would look to the advice of the City manager for the quality of those candidates. Councilman Bob Ellis said he would be ok with interviewing one qualified candidate before expanding the search. Councilman Randy Green agreed, saying he wouldn’t want to lose a good candidate just because they extended the search out longer. Councilwoman Jan Lobur noted the City got lucky with its assessor and would be open to interviewing a single good candidate – adding it would be good to have more than one but not too many.

City Attorney Dennis Perkins noted he doesn’t have any say in the selection process but offered his opinion in that capacity. Perkins said his concern lies with experience and that any new candidate be fully up to date and up to speed on election issues - including but not limited to having run hard machinery and equipment such as tabulators and have trained workers, which Cartwright has had to do that over the years. He cited a section of City Charter that lays out qualifications and what is expected of a clerk – saying voting ironically is not included but it’s an old charter set in 1955. When seeing what’s happened over the course of the last several years with voting, Perkins said he felt that kind of experience is really paramount but also highlighted other issues of importance and things Cartwright does behind the scenes. Perkins noted her knowledge of the Freedom of Information Act and what documents to give on request and what to withhold, the Open Meetings Act and how she keeps track of all the City ordinances – adding it’s not a job for weak of heart.

DeBuff said they really won’t know anything about the quality of candidates until after the basic informational interviews – noting they didn’t want to get to far ahead in the process without Council input and will put together a bigger committee to narrow it down. Council will conduct formal interviews for any candidates recommended by staff and has the final say on any selection.