An out-of-town candidate for a public job in Whitewater should do some research on both the job and the community. Along the way, the candidate will visit the city, and perhaps be introduced to so-called stakeholders in Whitewater. Those introductions may be revealing, but they’re sure to be brief, and blur with other events on a visit.
More significant, however, is what happens when the candidate for a major public position interviews in closed session. The candidate will remember those questions, and those interviewers. In those closed session moments, a candidate will learn what those with hiring authority want and expect from an applicant.
And so, and so — this question about those closed-session interviews: how likely is it that any candidate is asked to undertake a program of substantive change?
Here, one presents the question straightforwardly, but the probable answer renders the question rhetorical. It’s likely that candidates are asked for no more than slight improvements, and a more polished approach, than their predecessors. There’s almost certainly an emphasis on not embarrassing the hiring body, while simultaneously fulfilling stakeholders’ wishes.
What’s improbable is that a candidate is asked to make substantive, root-and-branch changes. Changes like that would necessarily call into question longtime stakeholders’ own records.
‘Do what we want while looking somewhat better than your predecessor’ is a low bar for any candidate, in any community. In a town that’s been through the Great Recession, an opioid epidemic, economic stagnation, repeated incidents of sexual harassment, a pandemic, and now another recession, it’s a recipe only for community disappointment.
And yet, and yet – from the candidate’s vantage, shouldn’t a new coat of paint be more than enough? Isn’t that, after all, what his or her hiring committee wanted? If they’d wanted more, wouldn’t they have asked for more?
A person looking at Whitewater should be able to see that she needs more than a new coat of paint. In fairness, however, when those appointed to high public positions face requests or demands for deep change, they have reason to be surprised: those are not the terms under which they were hired.
Those candidates should have wanted better for Whitewater, surely. Yet for it all, the aging stakeholders of Old Whitewater should have wanted better for Whitewater long before those candidates ever heard of this town.