Zebulon commissioners missed an opportunity to strike a blow for openness in government.
The commissioners are nearing the finish line in their search for a new town manager following the forced resignation of Rick Hardin last November.
Despite repeated requests from this newspaper to reveal the finalists for the position, commissioners have rejected all pleas, citing the lack of permission from candidates to reveal their identities.
Commissioners could have avoided this case of the tail wagging the dog had they simply alerted potential candidates in the early stages that the identities of the finalists would be made public.
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The typical refrain from town leaders has been that they didn’t want to run the risk of good candidates failing to apply because they didn’t want their names made public unless they got the job.
But that argument doesn’t hold much water. We don’t believe the Durham school system believes it got a poorer pool of candidates because it made the names of finalists public. Nor do we think Wake County commissioners would agree with that belief. Ditto for the Wake County school system. All three of those bodies introduced their finalists to the public and never once have we heard that anyone questioned the strength of the candidate pool.
In Zebulon’s case, the town was well run under Hardin’s administration and commissioners and the mayor generally seem to be on the same page. But there is never a time when two heads are not better than one. The new manager will have to deal with a public that had no say in his hiring. He or she will be the person who serves as the face of the town to people who do business with local government - whether its asking for a permit or seeking a contract from the town. That person starts off with a strike against them becuase they’ve already shown a proclivity toward secrecy.
And Zebulon’s elected leaders, unfortunately, fall right in that same line.
This was an opportunity missed for the town. We hope it will be a long time before commissioners find themselves seeking another manager, but when that happens, it would certainly be best to work in the sunshine and not the shadows.