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Reno City Council begins process to replace city manager

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On Wednesday, the Reno City Council began the process of hiring a new city manager. City Manager Doug Thornley resigned in April and will leave the city in early July. Council members have six months to replace him.

Thornley was selected as city manager on Aug. 17, 2020, and started in the position two months later. His last review came in June 2023, during which he received positive reviews, a $20,000 bonus, a 2.5% cost of living pay increase, and a two-year extension to his contract. 

The only council member who did not review Thornley positively was Jenny Brekhus, who has had an ongoing contentious relationship with the city manager. 

Brekhus once accused Thornley of drinking while on the job. The resulting investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing by Thornley, but it did find that Brekhus had created a “toxic work environment” due to her treatment of staff.  

The process of finding candidates for the job is being handled by Roseville, California-based hiring firm Bob Murray & Associates. 

Gary Phillips, vice president of Bob Murray & Associates, came before council members to discuss the process, which is estimated to take about four months. 

Council members weighed in on what they would like to see from a new city manager. The consensus was to find someone who would live in Reno, become a part of the community and have previous experience as a city manager.

“We’re always seeking the best person and it’s very important to get a good Nevada fit,” Council member Naomi Duerr said. “The people I see that don’t work out — and I’m not referring to city managers, I’m referring to other recruitments in our community — the people that don’t seem to work out seem to have a hard time adjusting to Nevada. They don’t move to Reno or they don’t move to Washoe County. Whoever we decide to consider understands the expectation that they would move to our community.” 

“My experience is almost 100% of the time my clients don’t know the right person until it’s sitting in front of them.”Gary Phillips, vice president of Bob Murray & Associates

Duerr also said she would like to see a manager more focused on the community. 

“I think Doug has done a tremendous job on improving the culture of our organization by focusing internally. At the same time … I think that we need similar effort focused on external — our public, our residents, our citizens — so that they feel they are a part of the city too and that their voices are heard.” 

She pointed to County Manager Eric Brown’s practice of attending neighborhood advisory board meetings to hear directly from community members.

Council member Miguel Martinez also said building trust with the community was important. 

“[I’d like] someone who is interested in increasing the community engagement and tackling some of those transparency and loss of faith in our government systems we have been experiencing,” he said. “Someone who is conscious of that and will work with us to dismantle some of those beliefs.” 

In contrast, Brekhus said she was concerned the search was going to “hometown this,” which would “burn” other candidates from outside the area. She said the emphasis on a local candidate was in conflict with the stated desire to have someone with experience who can run the city “the way big cities do it.”

Phillips said it’s important to communicate to the candidate pool that they want the best candidate possible, but sometimes, the message gets blurred if the word on the street is that the board wants someone local. 

“My job as a recruiter is to do the best I can to let them know that ‘Hey, we’re not cheap, they wouldn’t have hired us if they didn’t want to see the best thing out there,’” he said.

Phillips added that council members should refrain from suggesting that the final candidate would be local or publicly praising interim manager staff, as those are both signs to out-of-state candidates that their chances at the job are slim. He said that can affect the candidate pool.

“My experience is almost 100% of the time my clients don’t know the right person until it’s sitting in front of them,” he said. “What we all have to do is go in with an open mind.”

Brekhus prioritized experience. She said she wanted the recruitment firm and candidates to understand the recruitment process and have experience as city managers.

“In Nevada, we do it very differently than in California, very public,” she said. “Bad thing, good thing, you know, let [people] study that. In Nevada, we have a good opportunity because we can steal retirees from California. Unfortunately, to my history, we’ve hired two city managers …  who don’t meet the profile.  

“We’ve gone with inexperienced people twice now,” she added. “Even the third person before, who I think was a rescue person, didn’t have [experience]. So we’re going on three city managers who don’t have any sitting-in-the-hot-seat experience.” 

Council member Kathleen Taylor said she also wants a manager who is ingrained in the community, but her focus is on redevelopment. 

“Some of the criteria that I’m looking for is a collaborative nature and lots of experience,” she said. “I think the next step is revitalization and economic development is [where] we can grow.” 

Mayor Hillary Schieve agreed and said she would like to see duties related to redevelopment separated from the city manager position, and to create a separate position focused solely on revitalization. 

“I think now more than ever it’s probably been one of our top priorities,” Schieve said. “The city manager now kind of doubles as [a revitalization manager], and I think now that the redevelopment agency is generating some revenue, I think it’s something this council should look at.” 

Council members voted to have Bob Murray & Associates proceed with drafting the process and recruitment brochure for the candidate search.

In other items: 

New trees to be planted with NV Energy donation

Council members accepted a $25,000 donation from the NV Energy Foundation for the ReLeaf Reno initiative. The project aims to restore and protect Reno’s “urban forest” by promoting tree-planting efforts throughout the city. The donation is part of a new energy partnership agreement the council approved during the May 22 meeting. 

School zone flashers approved

Council approved the purchase of 13 solar-powered school zone flashing beacons through an agreement with the Nevada Department of Transportation. The total cost is $82,000 and the city’s portion is $4,100. The flashers will be installed at Anderson, Caughlin Ranch, Duncan, and Corbett elementary schools, Traner Middle School and Reno High School. 

Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose
Kelsey Penrose is a proud Native Nevadan whose work in journalism and publishing can be found throughout the Sierra region. She received degrees in English Literature and Anthropology from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a Masters in Creative Writing with the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. She is an avid supporter of high desert agriculture and rescue dogs.

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