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West Jordan is finally taking steps to find a permanent replacement for Rick Davis, the city manager who resigned abruptly last August without explanation.

The City Council this week approved spending up to $24,500 to hire an executive recruiting firm, Waters & Co. of Dallas, to conduct a nationwide search for a qualified manager.

"This is exactly what West Jordan needs right now," Mayor Kim Rolfe said Friday, indicating it should help to restore a sense of stability to the city of 110,000.

That is something that has appeared lacking in recent months as city government erupted into nasty infighting, accusations and personnel changes.

Part of the problem, as Councilman Chris McConnehey sees it, is the decision to try to get by with an acting city manager — Bryce Haderlie, the previous assistant city manager — while the city continued to pay Davis his full salary and benefits under a separation agreement that runs through June.

"As a council, we've made the mistake of waiting to fill that vacancy," McConnehey said in a previous interview. "At the time it was probably seen as a fiscally responsible move so that we're not paying double."

That decision, though, has left a vacuum at the top, he said, and aggravated rifts and "commotion" on the council.

The mayor on Friday didn't disagree.

"Hindsight is always 20-20," Rolfe said. "We possibly should have pushed forward what we are doing now at that point" last August.

He said the recruiting firm will recommend a candidate within 12 weeks "and they felt very confidant that there will be a large number of applicants for a city like this."

Salary will be up for negotiation. When Davis left after three years on the job, he was receiving compensation — including salary topping $145,000 — worth around $200,000.

In fact, after receiving a $44,000 buyout for vacation, sick leave and car allowance, he has continued to receive his salary, retirement and insurance benefits and will do so through June 30.

No one has ever explained Davis' abrupt resignation or the unusual severance package, but his separation agreement included a ban on the mayor, council members or any other city officials saying anything to disparage him. He, in turn, agreed not to bring any claims against the city for age discrimination or violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

At the time of his departure, Davis was among several defendants in a civil-rights lawsuit by a justice-court clerk supervisor. That suit has since been settled. He also was under some criticism for outside work as a senior executive for an Arizona-based government consulting firm that included clients as far flung as Kabul, Afghanistan, and Sitka, Alaska.

In his new job, as city manager of Baytown, Texas, beginning July 1, Davis will receive a $208,000 salary, plus benefits. The city of 75,000 is a suburb of Houston.

Baytown also included a provision in his contract that bars Davis from engaging in outside consulting or other work without specific, prior approval of the City Council.

Rolfe said any prospective city manager for West Jordan also will be limited in outside employment.

"I don't think, with a city of our size, you could have any outside business interests. This is a large city with a large budget, and it's hard to keep on top of. That's why you need a real experienced person ... [devoting] full attention to the city and our residents."