McAlester city councilors took another chance at trying to find a city manager on Thursday night — while another councilor said today he won’t vote for anybody recommended by The Mercer Group.

“I still think Bart Van Nieuwenhuise is the best candidate for the job,” said Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin.

Van Nieuwenhuise is the assistant city manager in McAlester. He’s been fulfilling many of the duties of the city manager since Susan Monroe stopped going to the office on a regular basis last April, prior to her resignation in May.

City councilors interviewed three applicants behind closed doors during the Thursday night meeting. They were set to interview another two tonight.

All five were among the applicants recommended by The Mercer Group — the private search firm hired by the city council which could cost the city as much as $24,500.

Garvin had been the only councilor to vote against hiring The Mercer Group last September.

At the time, he said city councilors should select and hire a city manager themselves and save the city thousands of dollars in costs and fees.

Van Nieuwenhuise applied for the city manager’s job prior to the council’s decision to hire The Mercer Group.

Garvin noted this morning that Van Nieuwenhuise has been fulfilling many of the city manager’s duties, while also doing his regular job as assistant city manager.

He’s also helped with the city treasurer’s duties, since the city also has a vacancy in that slot. Now, Van Nieuwenhuise is also doing some work in the Human Resources department, since Lesa Thompson recently retired from heading that post.

“How many jobs does he have to do to prove what he can do?” Garvin said.

Garvin said he had been unable to attend the Thursday night meeting because of work conflicts.

Meanwhile, city councilors continue to keep the names of the city manager applicants they are interviewing secret from the press and the public. The five finalists are from North Carolina, Alabama, New Mexico, Texas and Kentucky.

Mayor Don Lewis said the three interviewed on Thursday night were from Kentucky, New Mexico and Texas. The meeting started at 5 p.m. and continued until around 10:06 p.m.

“The meeting went well,” Lewis said. “We feel we have some good prospects. There are at least two candidates who are excited about the challenges the city faces.” Lewis declined to identify which two he referred to at this point.

The applicants from North Carolina and Alabama were set to be interviewed during a closed session set to begin at 5 tonight at City Hall.

Lewis said tonight’s meeting is still scheduled, despite an ice storm warning which includes the McAlester area.

The mayor said the meeting can be rescheduled “if the ice storm hits and they can’t make it.”

The five applicants were culled down from a much larger pool by The Mercer Group.

“We started with a top seven,” said Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason. Councilors had wanted to select the top five applicants for interviews, but threw in a couple more in case some applicants took another job in the meantime.

Councilors aren’t necessarily locked into selecting any of the five as the new city manager.

“We can go back to Mercer” to get some more applicants, said Ward 2 Councilor Donnie Condit.

In a proposal sent to the city from its Sante Fe office last year, The Mercer Group said its typical fee is $16,500, plus expenses not to exceed $8,000.

Several councilors said they are ready to get on with the process.

“I’m excited. I’m ready to get going,” said Ward 1 Councilor Greg Rock.

“I know there’s some quality people we’ll be interviewing.”

Mason hopes the search for a new city manager will be successful.

“We’re finding our way back to the surface,” he said.

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