Smithfield will begin its search for a town manager without the help of an outside consultant.
The decision came at September’s Town Council meeting and will save the town $20,000 to $30,000.
For the town’s staff and elected leaders, it means a lot more work.
Almost all of the discussion to begin with an internal search came from the three councilmen who opposed the ouster of Town Manager Paul Sabiston in August: Andy Moore, Emery Ashley and Roger Wood.
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The town has hired managers without using headhunters in the past, Moore said, and it should try that approach before deciding to spend more money. If the town’s process fails to attract high-quality applicants, he said, the council can always bring in a consultant to help at a later date.
“The fact of the matter is we’re already in the hole about $70,000,” he said, referring to Sabiston’s severance package.
Moore went on to say it’s the council’s responsibility to hire a manager. “That’s what we were elected to do; that person reports to us,” he said.
Ashley agreed and said the council needs to hurry up and get the process going. At Ashley’s request, the council asked to have preliminary criteria for applicants prepared within a week by Human Resources Director Tim Kerigan and interim Town Manager Jim Freeman. Freeman is a retired manager who lives in Troutman. The council hired him at a special meeting, which a large crowd used to show support for Sabiston and ask to have him reinstated.
At least one or two members of the public should also have a say in the selection process, Wood said. Moore reminded the councilmen that the public had several chances to weigh in during Sabiston’s hiring process.
In addition to outlining the specific skills they want the new town manager to have, Freeman said, councilmen should also consider how heavily they value certain personality traits. For instance, they should decide how important it is to have someone who is friendly and outgoing, he said.
With this being an election year, it’s a good time to be looking for a new town manager, Freeman said. To take full advantage of the opportunity, he said, Smithfield should begin advertising the manager position sometime in October and leave it up through early December.
Newly elected councils often oust their managers, Freeman said, and many will already be looking around for new jobs. By posting its want ad ahead of the election, he said, Smithfield will already be on a lot of peoples’ radars.
And once a round of managers does get fired, Freeman said, an early-December deadline will give managers plenty of time to get their applications in to Smithfield.
That time line also means Smithfield should have its pick of managers who were ousted after election, because the cities who fire people in November will be months behind Smithfield in the hiring process.
Smithfield could receive anywhere from 40 to 100 applications, Freeman said.
The town hopes to make the hire by late January or early February, Kerigan said.
Fire chief, utilities head
Also at September’s meeting, Freeman updated the council on the search to replace Fire Chief Patrick Harris, who retired July 1 to explore consulting jobs and spend more time with his family’s business. Fire Captain John Blanton is serving as chief in the interim.
The town got 42 applications for the job, Freeman said, and he has worked with Kerigan to whittle that number down to 17. They will continue weeding out candidates until about five remain, Kerigan said, and those will receive in-person interviews.
The hiring will likely occur at the end of October or early November, Freeman said.
Smithfield has also been advertising for a new position, electric utilities director, but only received four applications, Freeman said.
The duties of that job previously fell upon a public utilities director, who oversaw all of the town’s utility departments, including the water plant and electrical, water and sewer operations, Kerigan said.
Under the guidance of Sabiston, he said, the council budgeted this fiscal year to spin out a separate position for an electric director.
Without any suitable candidates for the new job, Freeman recommended Smithfield return to its previous setup.
Currently, Smithfield is using Pete Connet as an interim public utilities director. Connet retired as Smithfield town manager in 2009.
After a brief discussion, the council agreed to go back to its old structure.
“I don’t have any problem with it,” Moore said. “That’s the way that we’ve had it for such a long time.”