The Knightdale Town Council summer retreat began here Thursday, July 21, with a discussion on the search for a new town manager. The council also discussed staff management organizational structure, including the possibility of hiring an assistant town manager.
The town is considering bringing in a consulting group to help with the town manager search. Council member Dustin Tripp briefed Mayor James Roberson and council members Mike Chalk and Pete Mangum about discussions he has had with a Chapel Hill firm, Development Associates, that has worked with a long list of North Carolina municipalities on executive searches.
Council members Randy Young and Mark Swan had work obligations that kept them from attending Thursday afternoon’s session, but were expected to be here for Friday’s discussion. Staff members other than Town Clerk Whitney Ledford were also not expected until Friday’s session when directors will be presenting department updates.
The cost for contracting with Development Associates, which Tripp was familiar with through a class the president taught, would be about $20,000. Council members said if the town does decide to bring in a consultant it would seek competitive bids first.
“They build a candidate profile,” Tripp said, “and basically they build an application based on what we tell them, so it’s not like sending your resume and cover letter. It’s actually a tailored application that gives us more of an apples to apples comparison.”
They also use a different screener at each step of the process, Tripp said, so the town gets added viewpoints along the way and screeners aren’t basing their opinions on a prior interview.
“There are pros and cons,” Roberson said. “I’ve reached out to some of the mayors of the other municipalities, had conversations with them. ... I’ve heard some good things; I’ve heard some things that were like, ‘OK, why are we are we paying $20,000 when we can do this in-house.”
Roberson said he would like to get Administrative Services Director Suzanne Yeatts’ ideas on hiring a consultant at Friday’s session because she has served on search committees before.
Not from within
Council members agreed that they didn’t see anyone from within town staff that would qualify to take the manager job.
Mangum said the town should be looking for a CEO type with broad knowledge and strong communication skills. “I don’t think we need to hire a town manager that this is their first stint as a town manager. ... I’d like to see somebody with five to ten years experience to be honest with you.”
“I’d like to see somebody with at least ten,” Chalk replied, “and a proven ten, not jumping around. Somebody that’s been there.”
The council signaled that they expect the search to last three to four months.
The council also signaled that, depending on his or her preference, the town will take another look at the organizational plan the council approved in February while former Town Manager Seth Lawless was out on health leave.
Council members said they had seen signs that that reorganization, which cut the number of people reporting directly to the manager from seven to three, has stretched those department heads – Yeatts, police Chief Lawrence Capps and Development Services Director Chris Hills thin, with them taking on multiple roles. Capps has also temporarily taken on town spokesman duties after the departure this week of former Communications Director Brian Bowman.
Council members said they could see another reorganization with an assistant town manager easing that load and freeing the town manager to be more visible in the community, an issue of importance to Roberson.
“We’re so big now – I mean we’re at 80 employees,” Mangum said, “multiple departments, and I can justify an assistant for the town manager to spread the load.”
The town is looking for a town manager after Lawless resigned in June barely a month after returning from a three-month health leave.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826