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City manager search is crucial

One of the criticisms lobbed at members of Salisbury City Council after City Manager Doug Paris’ departure last summer was that they must not have conducted a very thorough search. If the young assistant city manager was the best candidate the council found, how many serious candidates could they have interviewed?

The city did conduct a search when longtime Manager David Treme retired. At one point, city officials said they received 70-80 applications from people in 23 states, and they interviewed the top 10. But quantity does not ensure quality. At the end of the process, they said Paris was the obvious choice. City residents had to take them at their word.

Paris, 28 at the time, took office in March 2012. He abruptly came to a mutual agreement with the council to leave last summer, with a hefty severance package in hand. Both sides have kept mum about what precipitated the exit, but to outsiders it appeared Paris lacked the maturity to handle the power that came with the office of city manager.

Now the council has to figure out who does have that maturity — plus financial smarts, management know-how, people skills and more. Learning from the Paris experience, the council announced recently that citizens would help interview the top six or seven candidates for the job. That should allay fears that the city was not conducting a bonafide search.

Now the council has delayed those interviews. Mayor Paul Woodson said Wednesday the city was extending the application period to get more candidates. Does that mean the city does not think highly of its candidates so far? Woodson said that was not the case.

The council is wise to take its time with this hire. The city manager does more to set the tone of city government — and city-county relations — than any elected official. While the council sets policy, the way city government implements those policies and interacts with citizens is largely set by the man or woman in the manager’s chair. Much of the friction between local governments in recent years can be traced to city officials more intent on outsmarting others than truly collaborating. County officials with long memories and thin skins were also at fault. It’s time to put all that distrust behind Rowan County and Salisbury.

Good luck to City Council as it continues this crucial search. The selection will be one of the most important decisions council members make for the city.

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