By Tony Parra
PNT Staff Writer
And then there were two. The Portales City Council narrowed it’s choice for city manager to two candidates on Monday after an executive session from 5 p.m. to 7:20 p.m.
Debi Lee of Hobbs and Michael Steele of Croswell, Mich., are the two finalists for the position after approximately three 30-minute interviews with the three candidates. Richard Elliot of Broken Arrow, Okla., did not make the cut.
“We’ve narrowed it down to two excellent candidates,” city council member Michael Miller said. “They came across as the best-qualified candidates. We want to sit face-to-face with them to get a better idea.”
Miller suggested that the city bring the two candidates to Portales for face-to-face interviews and the council unanimously approved the motion.
“Both of them (candidates) have high credentials and experience in city management,” Ortega said. “Their responses were very good. They have experiences with towns the size of Portales.”
Interim-city manager Joann Martinez-Terry will be contacting Lee and Steele to set up appropriate dates for both to travel to Portales to conduct face-to-face interviews with Ortega and city council members.
“I expressed that I would rather do that (face-to-face rather) than during the phone interviews,” Steele said. “There is no substitute to face-to-face interviews. You can tell a lot from body language. You can take more out of the face-to-face interviews.”
The interim-city managers, the mayor and the city council is setting a goal to have the interviews complete before Thanksgiving and the council will make a decision by the end of the year.
Steele worked as a fire fighter before becoming an emergency manager in Sparks, Nev. He dealt with community emergencies such as the floods in the late-1990s in Sparks, which he said was designated as a national disaster.
Steele is currently the city manager of Croswell, Mich., a town of 2,467 people.
“The reason I came to a small town, was because I wanted to have first-hand experience into what each department does,” Steele said. “It was a very valuable experience. It made me a more effective city manager.”Lee is the assistant manager in Hobbs has a background working in a city government in New Mexico. Lee has ties to the community because she went to Eastern New Mexico University in the late-1970s and is one year short of her degree. Her son is a junior at ENMU.
Ortega talked about what Lee’s ties would mean in the decision process.
“It’s definite plus, knowing the New Mexico government,” Ortega said. “Right now both candidates are equal. That (ties) doesn’t mean we’re leaning towards one candidate over the other.”
Lee could not be reached for comment late Monday night.