Selma’s town manager is ready to retire, but the council wants him to stay another year.
That’s a change from nearly two years ago, when a narrow council majority thwarted an effort to fire Jon Barlow, who joined the town in 2014.
Barlow told the council earlier this year that he wanted to retire in September, but the council asked him to stay longer so it would have adequate time to find a replacement. Barlow said yes, and the council made it formal earlier this month, voting 4-1 to keep the manager on until Dec. 31, 2017. Only Mayor Cheryl Oliver voted against the arrangement.
After the meeting, Oliver later released a statement on the decision. “With Mr. Barlow approaching 30 years of local government experience, it seemed prudent to begin succession-planning discussions,” she said.
The council hired Barlow in January 2014; his salary is $92,920.
Barlow and his bosses have sometimes been at odds. In particular, some council members don’t like that he lives outside of Selma, though his employment contract with the council allows him to do so. Barlow lives in Fuquay-Varina.
The town manager said the decision to retire was his own and had nothing to do with his job performance or where he lives.
“I tried to retire in September,” he said. “I was ready to retire at the end of 2016, and a bunch of (council members) came to me and said: ‘Hold the phone, we want you to stay through 2017. Would you please consider staying another year and a half?’ ”
Among those asking Barlow to stay on was Councilman Tommy Holmes, who voted to fire Barlow in 2015.
“Jon, I’m gonna tell you, we got off on the wrong foot to start with,” Holmes said. “I didn’t know the situation and the pressure that you were under two years ago, so my mind’s changed. I thought there for a while that we wouldn’t get no business in Selma. But then you come ... and the town has been progressing. I appreciate what you’ve done. ... You’ve hired some good people. The whole town hall staff is doing an excellent job.”
In the January 2015 vote on whether to fire Barlow, Oliver sided with council members Jackie Lacy and Eric Sellers, who wanted to keep him. In explaining her vote earlier this month, the mayor said the town doesn’t need 14 months to find a new manager.
“My vote was based on a disagreement with the time frame, which I thought should be an earlier date,” Oliver said. “I cast my vote based on what I consider to be the current needs of Selma.”
“It was not a vote against Mr. Barlow,” Oliver added. “I was not advocating for an immediate end date, but simply wanted a date earlier than December 2017.”
In the past, when others wanted Barlow gone, Oliver said, she came to his defense. And she maintains that he was a good hire for Selma “at that time.”
Barlow is doing a great job managing the town, Oliver said, but she wants more out of the town’s top administrator. “We need an increased focus on marketing and proactively growing our town,” she said. “Some believe that this is solely the work of the economic developer; I disagree. It is also the responsibility of the town manager and the town council. A town manager wears many hats.”
And Selma today needs a town manager who lives in town, Oliver said. “When council made the decision to allow Mr. Barlow to reside outside of town, I stated that we should do so because of our needs at that time,” she said. “Since the time of that discussion, there has been increasing unrest erupting in communities around our nation. It would be helpful to have our town manager live in our town and establish strong relationships through ongoing proactive interaction with our businesses and citizens.”
Barlow said he has no specific plans for retirement, though he will spend more time with his son and daughter.
“It’ll be nice to spend more time with them after a lot of 12-hour days kept me from doing that,” he said.
Abbie Bennett: 910-849-2827; @AbbieRBennett