The search for Smithfield’s next town manager has narrowed to six candidates, and town leaders expect to bring on the new hire in April.
After interviews this past Monday, the Town Council has spoken with four finalists so far, Mayor Andy Moore said on Wednesday, adding that the council planned to interview the remaining finalists on Thursday.
The town began with 33 applications, which it culled to 14. Those 14 received questionnaires, and based on their responses, the council narrowed the field to six, all of them male, Moore said.
The mayor said he was happy with the applicant pool, which ranged in experience from five to more than 30 years. “I’ve been very impressed and pleased with the number of applications and the amount of experience,” he said. “We’re taking this very seriously. We’re trying very hard to get the best candidate who will have the best impact on Smithfield.”
Never miss a local story.
Smithfield has been without a manager since August, but the Town Council said it would not begin the hiring process until after the November municipal election, which produced two new council members and a new mayor.
The council began its search in earnest in January, discussing candidates in a series of closed-door meetings, said interim town manager Jim Freeman said. Interviews with the most recently whittled group of candidates began Feb. 17.
The next phase will be to narrow the field to two candidates, Freeman said. Those two will have their references checked and backgrounds investigated before coming in for additional, more-detailed interviews, he said.
Once the council has settled on its first choice, contract negotiations will begin, with the intent begin to have a manager hired in April, Freeman said.
Of the more than 30 initial candidates, “a few (were) women, but most were men,” Freeman said. The candidates had diverse backgrounds, including candidates from within and without North Carolina, he said.
Smithfield gave preference to candidates with experience in local government in North Carolina, but the application was open to anyone meeting the qualifications.
At the start of the search, the previous council and the public laid out the traits they wanted in Smithfield’s next manager and included those traits in the advertisement seeking applicants.
For its part, the council most wants someone who can and will implement its policy decisions. This is what the council said in September: “He or she must understand the town council’s priorities and direction; communicate effectively in oral and written form; respond to requests in a timely manner; follow up with residents, organizations and other groups; be a team player and motivator, not ego-centered and not a procrastinator; build partnerships and relationships; and be willing to speak to individuals.”
“I’d like to get someone energetic and with good communication with the council, staff and the general public,” Moore said. “Someone outgoing and personable.”
But the most important feature Moore wants to see in a new manager is openness to change, especially since his No. 1 goal as mayor is increased economic development.
“I want someone not afraid of change,” he said. “The world is changing. If we don’t change as a town, as a government, we’re going to be left behind. We need someone not afraid to implement that change … We can’t stagnate.”
The public also said it wants a manager who is approachable. Also, the public called on the council to include businesspeople, community leaders and citizens in the hiring process, but it did not do so.
Last August, the council was split in its decision to fire then-manager Paul Sabiston, which cost the city $50,000 in severance pay.
Smithfield hired Sabiston in April 2012 in the wake of the pay-raise scandal that cost former manager Eric Williams the same job.
Freeman, a former town manager in North Carolina, came out of retirement to serve as Smithfield’s interim manager. He works 24 hours per week.
The town manager acts as the town’s chief administrative and financial officer, overseeing day-to-day operation of all town departments. The manager is hired by and reports to the mayor and council.
Abbie Bennett: 919-553-7234, Ext. 101; @AbbieRBennett