Farmer to student: know the basic stuff

Friday, December 10, 2010

Discussion among Lewisburg's councilmen recalls an old story about nuclear energy.

A college freshman, excited about bountiful energy from reactors, explained it to one of his friends who'd been working on a farm for decades.

The student raved about how protons and neutrons made heat and the friction boiled water for a steam turbine to generate electricity.

Then, the farmer asked if the student knew that cow manure came with a natural gas.

No, the freshman didn't.

Did you know that a lot of it together creates heat?

No, he didn't.

There were a few more exchanges about animal waste. Each time the student said he'd not known what the farmer explained.

The conclusion from the farmer goes something like this: "So, basically, you don't know this stuff, but you want to monkey around with nuclear energy, right?"

One of four local applicants for the open job of city manager was rejected last week because his bachelor's degree is in animal science.

Meanwhile, another local applicant's degree is in engineering, a point that came out publicly during council deliberations. That conflict with the advertised request for applicants with a degree in public administration was dismissed with a comment about experience.

So, here's the reason for the story. Lewisburg is to build a $13 million expansion of its sewage treatment plant. While one local applicant is an engineer, the former local applicant knows waste. Meanwhile, several out-of-state applicants say their experience includes expansion of a sewage treatment plant.

Regardless, hiring managers is complicated. It includes rules and regulations that come with the claim (and requirement) of being an equal opportunity employer. Councilmen are gun shy about EEOC complaints, and rightly so. See the mess over at the school board.

Local management was preferred by the school board when it hired its current director of schools. That selection process renewed the old question: Which is better - an elected superintendent of schools, or a hired schools director found among applicants mostly from somewhere else?

Amid the search for another city manager, residents are discussing this aspect of leadership in local government. It's whether you want to hire local or promote from within, versus conduct a nationwide search and avoid the charge of having done little more than follow the good-old-boy system.

Sometimes you have to just face facts. People will talk, so put your head down, do your best and realize that frequently decisions are choices between the lesser of two evils.

It's like voting for president. In this situation of hiring a city manager, it might be deciding who's better.

There seems to be some general consensus that the now-departed Police Advisory Board did OK when it recommended the man who's now the police chief. Maybe that will happen with a new city manager.

Regardless of who's hired as city manager, guess who's going to conduct the background check? Right: It's the police chief.

That's remarkable since the manager is the chief's boss according to the city charter.

These views are the author's and not necessarily reflective of the Tribune's views.