On an interim basis, it may be a case of everything old is new again in the city manager position for the City of Scottsbluff.
Rick Kuckkahn, who served as Scottsbluff city manager for 18 years before retiring in 2016 and has more than 30 years of experience in city administration, will be asked to step in as interim manager filling a void left when current City Manager Nathan Johnson leaves the position after the city council’s March 2 meeting. Kuckkahn will likely be asked to step in a couple of weeks before Johnson leaves as a transition period. By a 3-2 vote during a special meeting Thursday morning, the city council authorized Johnson to make an offer to Kuckkahn and bring back a proposed contract, expected to be for three months, at Tuesday’s regularly scheduled meeting.
The council also approved by unanimous vote a draft Request For Proposal that will be sent to recruiting firms outlining the city’s search for candidates to fill the position on a permanent basis. Johnson said in initial discussions that Kuckkahn had indicated he has no intention of returning on a full-time basis.
Mayor Raymond Gonzales had suggested that Johnson contact Kuckkahn to fill the interim role.
Councilmembers Scott Shaver and Nathan Green opposed the offer to Kuckkahn.
“I think we need to go in a new direction, and going backwards isn’t a good idea,” Shaver said. “I think any of the people in here (those in attendance at the meeting) that are currently on staff would be a much better choice because they know what’s currently going on in the city. Rick has no idea what’s currently going on in the city.”
Councilmember Terry Schaub said he believes the current staff is spread too thin to take on additional responsibilities such as the interim role.
“I look at Rick as he’s got some background knowledge on some of these projects we’ve got going,” Schaub said. “He was kind of in on the ground floor of bringing some of this stuff together. I don’t think we’d be going backwards, I just think we’d be making sure that projects are getting done, still moving forward and staff still has some direction.”
Councilmember Jeanne McKerrigan said familiarity between Kuckkahn and the staff is a benefit.
“This is a big uncertain time for the staff,” she said, “and I think if we have someone step in who they’re familiar with, who’s familiar with everything we’re involved with right now, I think it would be a good choice to have someone there for them to reach out to if they have questions or concerns, and hopefully they agree.”
Green said he understands the need for an interim as the time frame for finding a replacement is uncertain, however he didn’t want to get into a series of interim contracts should the search extend beyond the three months suggested. Green said he sees the opening at the city manager position as an opportunity for Scottsbluff to re-brand itself.
“I think it would be a good time to look forward and say this is a new beginning, whatever it may be” he said. “I don’t know how that would work if we’re stepping back and just rehashing the old stuff again. That’s not a dig on Mr. Kuckkahn or anything else, I see it as something we should move forward with.”
Gonzales said he sees Kuckkahn’s role as interim as similar to what Western Nebraska Community College did when it brought back John Harms as interim president while that position was open.
“I think it was a really good thing,” Gonzales said of Harms’ role at WNCC. “I talked to a lot of people in the community who said that they were really happy to have him back there. My concern here is the staff first and foremost. I think hopefully we’ll get a city manager in here in three or four months. I know we’re going to reach out to some top executive search firms for some help in that process. So it’s not like (Kuckkahn) is going to be here for the long haul.”