Candidates want next broadband director to come from that industry

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 20, 2011

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — The city has begun the search for the next broadband director, and many candidates for City Council say they want to hire someone from industry, not government.
Fibrant’s first director, Mike Crowell, took early retirement in August.
“A lot of people who work in government have never worked in a competitive field,” said Councilman Paul Woodson, who’s up for re-election. “We now realize that we need to get someone in here who’s been in a competitive environment.”
Challenger Rip Kersey said the City Council should play a role in hiring the new director, although the board typically hires and fires only the city manager.
“The decision is that important,” Kersey said.
Jim Behmer, who runs Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, is interim broadband director. Candidates agree Behmer is doing such a good job, the city can take its time to find the right person for the crucial post.
The new director ”will lead this utility in its most challenging phase,” Interim City Manager Doug Paris told City Council Tuesday. The director will have to grow Fibrant from 1,380 subscribers to about 4,500 by 2014.
The city is using two search firms, one in North Carolina and another in New York, specializing in the telecommunications industry, Human Resources Director Zach Kyle told City Council. The city only pays the firm if its candidate is chosen, he said.
Kyle said he will review applications in the coming weeks to determine which candidates to will advance.
The city will create two assessment panels, he said — an external panel composed of people with industry knowledge and City Council members, and an internal panel made up of members from the city’s management team.
The panels will score the candidates, and the city manager will do final interviews, Kyle said. The city is also searching for a new city manager who likely will be hired first, enabling him or her to choose the broadband director.
Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell, who is up for re-election, praised city staff for using industry-specific recruiters for the broadband position.
“We’re still new to this business,” she said.
Finding the right person to direct Fibrant will be key to the utility’s long-term success, challenger Dale Stephens said.
“They’ve got to keep it running and keep the prices low,” he said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.