The folks at Clayton’s town hall have laid out a detailed timeline for replacing longtime town manager Steve Biggs, whose last day on the job was June 10. The timeline explains a multi-step process that promises to produce a good manager to succeed Biggs. Among other things, the council plans to subject six semifinalists to two days of intensive assessments.
But missing from the timeline is any mention of introducing any of the candidates – not even the six semifinalists nor the three finalist finalists – to the people of Clayton.
That’s disappointing but not surprising. Towns, counties, school systems and so on will tell you that secret searches are necessary to attract the best candidates. But that’s not true. In replacing its first president many years ago now, Johnston Community College conducted an open search that led to the hiring of Don Reichard, who proved to be an excellent president.
But our elected bodies conduct secret searches any way. Most recently in Johnston County, Smithfield conducted a secret search for town manager – and then hired its police chief, Michael Scott, for the job. We doubt Mr. Scott would have minded being named as a candidate for the post. Still, secrecy prevailed.
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Oddly enough, while Clayton plans a secret search, the town says it might invite a few citizens to help evaluate what will amount to the six semifinalists for the job. In the announced timeline, the town uses the word “possibly” with regard to inviting citizens to take part in those two days of intensive assessments of the semifinalists. We figure the town is hedging its bets until it knows whether it can legally bind citizens to secrecy. If the answer is no, don’t expect any citizens to take part in helping to choose their next town manager.
Town councils aren’t in the habit of accepting challenges from newspapers, but here’s one for Clayton. On June 28, the town council will meet to narrow the field of candidates to 15. We challenge the council to tell those 15 that the names of the three finalists will be made public. If the conventional wisdom of secrecy is true, then the 15 best candidates for Clayton town manager will withdraw from contention. Our suspicion is that no more than one or two would do so.