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Spencer candidates talk town manager during Tuesday forum

SPENCER — It was David Treme night on Tuesday at the Spencer Woman’s Club on Third Street.

Asked about how they’d go about hiring a town manager, a majority of candidates for mayor and alderman endorsed keeping Treme on as a permanent manager or, at a minimum, getting his input on who comes next.

When asked what they’d do differently about hiring former Town Manager Terence Arrington — who resigned in May after serving six months of a three-year contract after tensions bubbled to a boil — many candidates passed on the opportunity, saying they think it is more important to look to the future.

And one candidate passed on answering both questions, saying it’s too early to ask.

There were 12 candidates present Tuesday, including one of the two people running for mayor. David Doby Sr., who is running for mayor, and Jason Doby, running for alderman, did not attend.

Other questions asked Tuesday focused on pet product retailer Chewy.com’s fulfillment center being built on Long Ferry Road and how the mayor and board could work together with the manager to create a vision for Spencer

Jonathan Williams

Williams, the only mayoral candidate present at Tuesday’s forum, said he didn’t want to discuss history involving the previous town manager but that people sometimes make mistakes in the hiring process.

“We’re human,” he said. “So, we just need to keep that in mind.”

Williams said it’s important to stop “dwelling on the past.” The town needs to learn and not make the same mistake twice.

“The greatest mistake in that process was the division it caused in our community,” Williams said.

He said the town board needs to develop a list of traits desired for the next Spencer manager and acknowledged that compensation would be an issue because of Spencer’s size. Some of the traits Williams listed included being willing to collaborate and “roll their sleeves up.”

Bob Bish

Bish said he doesn’t think the questions about hiring a town manager are appropriate to ask now. The town board is going to make a selection about who the manager is after the election.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate even before you are elected to say who you are going to support,” Bish said. “I defer until after the election.”

Mike Boone

Boone, an incumbent, said choosing a town manager is one of the most important decisions that a town board makes. Boone was among many to praise the work of Treme and said he’d like a recommendation from Treme about who is the next town manager.

He suggested using a service provided by the Centralina Council of Governments to find the next manager, which would eliminate “having to go through hundreds of applications” and people wanting to come to Spencer for “astronomical amounts of money.”

Howard Doby

Doby said it is important for the town to avoid hiring a manager who would be “a sidekick” to the mayor.

“Because you like him, that doesn’t get the job done,” Doby said.

Two people need to be able to “sit down and listen” without hollering at each other, he said.

Sharon Hovis

Hovis noted that she currently serves on the board and that she was well-informed about Arrington’s departure, but that she doesn’t want to dwell on the past and analyze the former manager’s departure.

“I’m not going to sit here and talk about negativity,” Hovis said.

She said that, with a good supervisor as manager, town board members would have little work to do. And she said that morale has improved among the town staff with Treme as manager. The town board candidates shouldn’t explicitly name the person they want as town manager, she said.

David Karczewski

Karczewski said the town board needs to “take a page from Mr. Treme’s book.” He’s treated every employee in Spencer with respect and has “spoken with everyone.”

Karczewski said he’d like Treme to hire somebody to be town manager if chooses not to stay in the position permanently.

Karczewski said he previously met the former manager and that he thought Arrington was a nice person.

“I don’t get into hearsay,” Karczewski said.

Steve Miller

Miller said that he decided to run for town board, in part, because of the bad publicity that the town received in conjunction with Arrington’s departure. He said the town manager is the board’s representative in the community “day in and day out.”

Miller praised Treme’s work to “turn negativity into positivity” and said Treme has worked to retain town employees, including working on insurance policies.

It’s important for the town to have good leadership, Miller said. And while Miller said he is “a member of the fan club for David Treme,” it’s important to think about the future and choose another good candidate.

He passed on the opportunity to analyze Arrington’s hiring.

Sam Morgan

Morgan, who was the first to be asked the manager questions, was also the first to say that Treme should be offered the job permanently.

Morgan said he wasn’t familiar with details of problems associated with Arrington’s hiring.

He said the town manager is a key person in Spencer’s government and that he or she works for the town board. At the same time, the manager needs to understand the problems of Spencer and be a good facilitator, he said. The person needs to be a good motivator and lead by example and through inspiration, he said.

Morgan said he hopes there is a good vetting process when the next town manager is hired.

Rashid Muhammad

Muhammad, an incumbent, said whoever becomes town manager next needs to be able to “hold that title of leadership.” The person chosen by the Spencer town board must be able to serve, too, he said.

It will “be a great day” when the town hires a permanent manager because that person will be able to complete more projects and keep residents and the town administration informed, Muhammad said.

Patti Secreast

Secreast said that the town has benefitted from Treme’s leadership. And she said she learned a lot from from Hilda Palmer, who worked for the town of Spencer from 1963 until 1990 and retired as town manager. Secreast said, through Palmer, she learned a lot about town management.

When she worked as an educator, Secreast said she served on a number of committees to find superintendents, associate superintendents and lead teachers.

“So, I know how to find a leader,” she said.

Pat Sledge

Sledge said she would be happy to second a motion to hire Treme as the town’s permanent manager.

“He has set this board onto a positive path, and I’m grateful for that,” she said.

Sledge said she thinks Arrington was not vetted properly and that there were problems with transparency even though personnel discussions occur behind closed doors.

David Smith

Smith, an incumbent, said he doesn’t want to “blame any town manager,” but that he does believe that Treme has made positive progress for the town.

“I would like to see Treme stay on for as long as he would desire,” he said. “He’s doing a great job.”

It’s a good idea to hire Treme instead of “jumping ship” and hiring someone brand new, Smith said.

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