Council moving on manager hire
After months of indecision, some High Point City Council members now say they want to hire a new city manager before their terms end in December.
That means an outgoing council — which will see turnover in at least three and potentially all nine of its seats — could appoint a manager in one of its last acts instead of leaving the choice to the new board.
The council on Friday will meet in closed session to consider hiring an executive search firm to identify candidates to replace Strib Boynton, who retired July 1 after 16 years as manager.
A vote to hire a search firm could come Monday, about 100 days before a new council is sworn in Dec. 1.
Councilman Jim Davis said he believes the search can be completed and a new manager selected by then.
“The consensus was, this is the most important job we do as council members,” he said. “There’s the possibility of having several (council members) come on board who have never held elected office, and you have a lot of experience right now on council. So it seems kind of wise to go ahead and make a decision.”
The city will have a new mayor and at least two new council members following the November election. Mayor Bernita Sims and council members Foster Douglas and Becky Smothers are not seeking re-election. The other six council members all face challengers in their re-election bids.
Sims, Davis, Douglas and Smothers recently interviewed search consultants and settled on a recommended firm for the job. Their choice will give a presentation to the full council Friday.
Randy McCaslin has held the manager’s job on an interim basis since Boynton retired. McCaslin has said he intends to apply for the permanent post.
“Really, it would be best if the outgoing council would defer to the incoming council, as far as making a permanent change in the city manager,” said Guilford County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bill Bencini, a former councilman who is running for mayor this year. “We have who I know to be a perfectly competent interim manager, so it’s hard to understand what the hurry-up would be to make a permanent hire before the new council is seated.”
The commissioners in 2012 were in a similar position to what the council is facing now.
There was a vacancy in the county manager’s position with an election looming in which some longtime board members were leaving. They appointed an interim manager and deferred to the new board to decide on a permanent leader.
“It was decided that would be the fairest thing to do,” Bencini said.
Boynton gave official notice of his retirement in late April. The council has had ample time to begin a search but squandered the opportunity, argues former Councilman Latimer Alexander, who is running to regain his at-large seat this year.
There is not enough time between now and the end of council’s term to conduct a national search and attract quality candidates, in his view.
“They’re talking about spending the money for a search, doing a less-than-complete job at it, and then the new council that comes in would have a new manager that they had no input in hiring, but who works at their pleasure. It absolutely doesn’t make good sense to me,” Alexander said. “But this council has the authority to do it, and I guess they’re going to do it. These are folks who are still searching for a way to make their mark or establish a legacy. Outside of (enacting) a garbage fee, this council’s done nothing.”
The current council could hire a manager based on a particular agenda and set of priorities that the city’s next crop of elected leaders might not share.
“You could end up with a mismatched, kind of short-term, rocky relationship,” he said.
Smothers said having a manager in place for the new council would help ease the transition in the city’s leadership.
“I do think the new council is going to have a sufficient challenge in just getting their act together and deciding what their priorities are,” she said. “It takes time for a team to come together.”