GAMBIER — The Gambier Village Council will meet in closed executive session for two hours tonight from 6-8 p.m. in the council chamber to consider two finalists for the vacant village administrator position.
The two finalists have been pared down from a list of five semi-finalists announced last month, following an initial group of 32 applicants. Mayor Kachen Kimmell said Wednesday the two finalists are Gary Burkholder of Etna, who has served since July 2015 as the city manager of Brookville in Montgomery County, and Ralph C. Wise, who has spent the past six years as village administrator in Hebron, located in Licking County. Kimmell said she hopes to make a decision, with the council’s endorsement of one of the two finalists, by the end of the month.
She said the council will meet with each candidate for a half hour behind closed doors, asking specific questions, and then discuss the candidate’s interview for a half hour before repeating the same process with the other finalist. No action will be taken, Kimmell emphasized.
“These gentleman are strong candidates in a strong field of applicants,” Kimmell said. She later added, “An offer to whoever the final candidate is will be subject to a final background check, drug test, and we will also have to come to a meeting of the minds regarding salary and benefits. We are optimistic that one of these (two) candidates will be the new village administrator in Gambier, but the search is not quite complete even after (Thursday’s) meeting.”
Kimmell was asked why the council has decided not to allow Gambier residents to meet the two finalists during an introductory public forum, during which either finalist could introduce himself and take a few audience questions. A chance for the public to do so was requested during the Jan. 7 regular meeting by Mark Kohlman, Kenyon College’s chief business officer.
Kimmell said under state law, she has the authority to make the final decision but will want a full endorsement from the council. The Village of Gambier has never made a part of hiring a village administrator public, as the most recent full-time village administrator, Suzanne Hopkins, was promoted to the position after starting her village career in maintenance, Kimmell said.
Hopkins resigned in August 2018 following a cloud of questions involving an Ohio EPA investigation. Hopkins worked a total of 27 years for the village and as administrator, earned a salary of $84,000 per year. She was replaced by interim village Administrator Dave Martin, former village administrator of Sunbury.
Despite the hiring process being behind closed doors, Kimmell said members of the public may contact her or village council members to provide input on what questions to ask finalists — or the traits they should look for in the next administrator. During a recent council meeting, she noted that one audience member asked that the next village administrator be receptive to sustainability and green initiatives such as recycling. The city’s publicly elected officials are more than capable of hiring the best candidate for their citizens, and know what specific attributes to look in an administrator because they stay informed on matters affecting the city each day, Kimmell said.
The two finalists both have extensive village administrator or city manager level experience, she noted. In addition to serving as city manager of Brookville, Burkholder served for four years as village administrator in Hartford. In Brookville, he listed his achievements as being part of securing more than $1 million in grants, and successfully securing a $6.3 million bond for a new fire station. He has also served as a trustee with the Southwest Licking County Water and Sewer District; as a township trustee in Etna Township; and as a city council member in Pickerington.
In addition, Burkholder has been a research associate with the Ohio Governor’s Office of the Criminal Justice Services Statistical Analysis Center; served as a bailiff in Port Clinton; and served as president and founder of NorthCoast Research Inc. of Reynoldsburg. The company provides investigations into areas such as workmen’s compensation and the Family Medical Leave Act.
Wise, who is Hebron’s village administrator, has accumulated more than 18 years of experience as a city manager and administrator. He states that he has demonstrated a commitment to environmental sustainability, “ranging from using more sustainable energy sources to recycling to coordinating solid waste and energy contracts.”
Wise provided a list of accomplishments in his introductory letter, many of them in the state of Kansas: saving lives and money by implementing a cross-trained fire-and-EMS service in Fostoria, Ohio; being part of a team that secured renewable baseload power from a federal agency for Russell, Kansas; creating one of the first net metering policies for an electric municipal utility in Kansas; setting up the first opt-in natural gas aggregation program for Fostoria residents; writing and administering millions of dollars in state and federal infrastructure grants; and creating the first combined city/county real estate disposition policy in Kansas.
Kimmell said each finalist will be asked why he wants the position, and where he envisions seeing himself in five to 10 years. Three semi-finalists who were recently interviewed included Steven B. Stilwell of Utica, a long-time administrator, including village manager of Elk Rapids, Michigan; Garr Uram of Mount Vernon, who has spent the past five years as a water treatment operator for Mount Vernon; and Richard S. Dzik of Columbus, formerly Knox County’s 911 director for five years.
Kimmell said all three of those semi-finalists were “super” in their quality, adding that in her view, Dzik was runner-up to the two finalists. The only thing Dzik lacked was direct village administrator or city manager experience, she said, adding that she encouraged him to keep applying for positions in Knox County.