LOWELL -- Many of the small group of residents who addressed the City Council Wednesday night said they want the next city manager to be someone who has municipal-management experience and will continue Lowell's positive financial trajectory.
Residents pointed to the city's improved finances, including bond-rating upgrades in recent years, as a primary reason for their hope the council will hire a so-called "professional manager."
"We deserve a professional manager to continue the progress we have been making the past several years," said Amy Farmer of Centralville, one of the 10 members of the public who spoke.
Ann Marie Page, president of the Citywide Neighborhood Council, said residents want someone not only with municipal-management experience, but with knowledge of municipal planning, finances, labor relations, public safety and affordable housing.
Most of the six finalists for the city manager's position have municipal-management experience.
The finalists include North Reading Town Administrator Greg Balukonis, former Birmingham, Mich., City Manager Robert Bruner, former East Providence, R.I., City Manager Peter Graczykowski, and Blackstone Town Administrator Daniel Keyes.
George Ramirez, executive vice president of Devens operations for MassDevelopment, essentially serves as town manager of Devens. State Rep. Kevin Murphy has represented Lowell since 1997 and previously served as Lowell's assistant city solicitor for 13 years.
"I can't see us hiring a politician to run the city," said Bill Daly of Floyd Street. "I think we should have a professional city manager, like the previous city manager, running the city."
City Manager Bernie Lynch, who stepped down Monday, was a longtime manager in Chelmsford before being hired by the Lowell City Council in 2006.
Aleksandra Tugbiyele said even before the finalists were revealed there was concern in the community "that the person you would get would not be our manager because of their resume or the experience that they had, but because they knew somebody or were related to somebody." She also encouraged the council to hire a professional manager.
Ramirez is the brother-in-law of City Councilor John Leahy.
Several residents said they want a city manager who works closely with the neighborhood groups or who has experience with diverse populations.
Angel Suero urged the council to hire someone with excellent communication skills.
Deb Chausse, executive director of House of Hope, a homeless shelter, said she hopes for a city manager who keeps the needs of the city's poorest residents in mind and supports housing development for poorer people.
Councilors thanked the public for their feedback.
The council scheduled finalist interviews for Tuesday March, 25, through Thursday, March 27. Each evening of interviews will start at 6 p.m. Two candidates will be interviewed each night.
If there are conflicts with those dates for candidates, the council would consider having one of the interview days be Saturday, March 29.
The interviews could last as long as one hour and 50 minutes. The council approved Corey Belanger's motion that each candidate get 10 minutes for an opening statement and 10 minutes for a closing statement, while each councilor will receive 10 minutes for questions.
Bruner also has an interview on April 16 for a position in Brunswick, Ohio, though he still wants to interview in Lowell, according to Human Relations Director Mary Callery.
The council was also informed that one of the four finalists for the city auditor position is no longer a candidate.
Greg Hammond, a certified public accountant from Kennebunk, Maine, has withdrawn to accept another position, Human Relations Director Mary Callery told The Sun.
The council tabled until a future meeting Councilor Ed Kennedy's motion that the council add another candidate to the list of finalists so there again will be four.
The remaining finalists include Elizabeth Pavao of Malden, the director of finance/town accountant in North Reading and Irene Larivee of Nantucket, who has served as director of municipal finance in Nantucket.
Dharam Dixit of Lowell is the other finalist. She is the state Department of Housing and Community Development's director of finance for its division of community services.
Pavao received nine votes for an interview, Dixit received eight, Larivee received seven and Hammond secured five.
The council plans to hold the interviews for the auditor's position Wednesday, April 2, and Thursday, April 3, beginning at 6 p.m. each night.
Follow Moran on Twitter @lylemoran.