The City of Lawton will begin seeking applicants for its city attorney position Jan. 3, 2020.
City Council members met with Colin Baenziger this week to set the details for a job description and the recruitment process that will bring them a new city attorney. While that administrator runs the city's legal department, the city attorney also is one of four city employees who work directly for the City Council. All other employees are deemed to be under the supervision of the city manager, who also is hired and fired by the council.
Lawton attorney Bob Ross has been acting as interim city attorney for months, designated weeks after former City Attorney Frank Jensen resigned in August. As part of agreements with the council, Jensen will remain employed by the city until he retires in March 2020, but he no longer works in the City Attorney's Office.
The city will begin advertising for a permanent city attorney Jan. 3, 2020, with a closing date of Jan. 24, 2020, under the timeline outlined at Tuesday's special council meeting. That same timeline indicates that Colin Baenziger & Associates — the executive recruiting firm in charge of the process — will forward its candidate report to the city in mid-February, with the council selecting candidates for interviews by Feb. 25, 2020.
Those interviews are expected to take place March 20, 2020, when finalists meet with council members in executive session (meaning the process won't be open to the public).
Baenziger said his goal this week was to get council input into what he wants prospective candidates to know. The idea, he said, was to target the recruitment ad to attorneys who want to live in Lawton and work for the city. Many of the cited city's strengths touched on the fact that Lawton has much to offer.
"Lawton is in a state of moving upward, and we want to keep that going," said Ward 1 Councilwoman Mary Ann Hankins.
Ward 6 Councilman Sean Fortenbaugh cited the amenities and attractions the community holds, from the beauty of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge to the low cost of living. Ward 8 Councilman Randy Warren said Lawton is small enough to have the closeness of a small community, but large enough that it is beginning to see the advantages of big city living. Ward 4 Councilman Jay Burk cited the city's employees who are key to the city's success, noting Lawton has a staff "that wants to work for solutions."
Council members also said they wanted an attorney who is flexible enough to work with Lawton's diverse community, while also being able to develop the young talent presented by the office's staff. But, Ross warned that young staff also is experienced.
"The next city attorney will manage an office of very experienced assistants," Ross said, adding he also thinks the city needs a city attorney who has municipal experience and also has worked in the private sector.
The council didn't agree on the salary for one of the highest administrative posts in city government, with suggestions ranging from $120,000 to $160,000 annually. Baenziger said his firm will survey Oklahoma attorneys to find a suitable range.
"We'll collect the information and get back to you," he said.
Neither council members nor city administrators have commented on Jensen's resignation as city attorney, beyond confirming that a personnel investigation had been conducted.
Six female city employees who have worked in the City Attorney's Office have filed notices of tort claims and discrimination, alleging city administrators and elected officials were aware that Jensen has been accused of inappropriate behavior with female employees but took no action.