The Leesburg Town Council appears poised to look to an executive search firm to assist in finding its next town attorney.
It will be the county seat’s first search for a new legal leader in almost six years. This follows the council’s recent decision to terminate Barbara Notar, who had served as town attorney since 2015. Notar was promoted to town attorney—having served as deputy town attorney for seven years—after Jeanette Irby left the post to become a Circuit Court judge.
That search cast a decidedly smaller net than the current council has planned. Town Manager Kaj Dentler recalled during council’s Monday work session that the search for Irby’s replacement yielded no more than six candidates prior to Notar being selected by the council. The town attorney and the town manager are the only two town government positions hired and fired directly by the council.
Council members were presented with the options Monday to keep the responsibilities for the attorney search in-house, headed by the Human Resources Department, or to hire an executive search firm. The tab for the latter option could run between $20,000 to $35,000, Human Resources Director Joshua Didawick said, but it would come with some benefits. An executive search firm, he said, has access to databases and contacts that would identify candidates for the position which could add value to the search. While keeping the search in-house would do away with the added expense, Didawick noted that the staff would need to shift some projects within the department to focus on finding the next town attorney.
Although a majority of the council expressed support for using a search firm, council members said they wanted to be more involved in the selection process this go-around, instead of being brought in at the very end to interview a final group of job candidates.
Councilman Ron Campbell said he has seen firsthand the benefits of using a search firm, both in past jobs, and being selected for jobs with the help of a firm. A successful outcome will involve the council being very involved in the process, he said.
“They don’t just sit back and find you the best candidate,” he said. “It’s important we do participate, read résumés, give feedback. This isn’t someone that’s doing our work for us.”
Dentler said, in building a candidate profile, the firm would individually contact each council member to find the qualities and skills they are looking for, and then find the commonalities among those conversations.
“They become your agent,” he said.
Dentler pointed to the most recent time that Leesburg used a search firm—the search that brought Chief of Police Gregory Brown from the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office.
“They developed a whole profile based on what the community and council was looking for and that worked out quite well,” Dentler said.
The selected firm is expected to return to the Town Council to fine-tune the job description of the town attorney before the search starts in earnest. Didawick estimated the search could last three to four months once the job description is advertised.
The council, in a memo published in this week’s agenda packet, agreed to a separation agreement with Notar that netted her nine months’ salary, to the tune of $113,957, and benefits. Her departure date with the town is listed as March 2, although the separation agreement was approved Feb. 11. When asked about the discrepancy in dates, town staff declined to elaborate, citing the confidentiality of the agreement.