Public should be involved in city manager selection

Published 9:02 am Wednesday, March 28, 2018

City Council has chosen Elizabethton Planner and Director of Development Jon Hartman to serve as interim city manager as the search begins for a new city manager to replace retiring Jerome Kitchens. Certainly, Hartman is well qualified to pick up the slack and fill the office, and no doubt will be on the list of candidates to fill the position.

The hiring of a city manager is the most important decision a city council can make. It’s a choice that speaks volumes about what the city is and what it aspires to be.

That city manager, in the council-manager form of government, serves as the head of operations for all functions under the direction of city hall. He or she is responsible for taking council members’ directives as well as the suggestions of department heads and spinning them into policies that affect all of the city’s citizens.

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In fact, the city manager’s most important job is to create a team between council members, professional staff and the public they serve.

As such, the selection of a city manager is among the most consequential actions for a community.

That person sets the tone of how government interacts with the public and through the budget process, attempts to chart a responsible course for applying funds to areas of need.

It is therefore essential that the citizens be integrally involved at every step of that process. It helps ensure that the candidate selected for the role begins with the full faith and confidence of the people he or she will be expected to serve.

Central to the hiring of a new city manager is first, identifying the challenges and opportunities facing Elizabethton, and the corresponding qualities in the person who will respond to them.

Among the qualities of a city manager candidate should be someone with the ability to play a high-visibility role in city government and the community, have experience with aggressive and long-term planning, be able to make decisions and vet issues; and finally have strong financial-planning skills. They should also have a strong economic development background.

There’s been real uncertainty about what kind of community we want to be and the type of targeted businesses we’re trying to attract. We know at some point we must be able to attract higher-wage, higher-skill development.

Elizabethton needs a city manager, who can be aggressive, is not afraid of change, and can detail a blueprint for growth.

That means someone with the talent and know-how to move our city forward. And just as important, someone who has the guts to push through the hard changes that must be made. They must bring a fresh vision with a detailed action plan, brainpower, unimpeccable ethics and integrity, small-town experience, strong leadership and communication skills, ability to hire and retain top staff.

Good intentions won’t cut it.

As City Council begins its search for a new city manager, it needs to ensure that the search is as transparent and open as possible. It’s also important to involve the public to the extent possible in the search, both in terms of getting a chance to articulate what qualities will be important for the next city manager and in getting a chance to quiz the finalists.

It’s hard to overestimate the importance of this hire. Elizabethton’s future will be in the new manager’s hands. Let’s not mess up.