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Council to begin process of identifying recruiting firm, interim city manager

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Heeding advice from the North Carolina League of Municipalities, council members on Monday agreed to begin looking for an interim manger and discussed selecting a recruiting firm for the hiring of a new city manager.

Council members gathered virtually Monday for a presentation from Hartwell Wright, a human resources consultant with the North Carolina League of Municipalities, to discuss the process for hiring a new city manager following Lane Bailey’s departure in December.

Each municipality in North Carolina can decide to operate its governmental operations on one of two models, which is outlined in a municipal charter. Salisbury operates on a council-manager form, meaning the mayor and council establish the policies and hire a manager to implement those policies and hold statutory authority to hire and terminate employees. With this model, the mayor and council also hires the attorney and clerk directly.

Wright said there are more than 50 vacancies for professional managers across the state among the more than 400 manager positions. Given Salisbury’s size, he strongly suggests the city hire a recruiting firm to assist in the hiring process.

Wright said the process takes at least six months for municipalities that forgo a firm’s assistance, but hiring a firm only speeds up the process by a couple months. A municipal election on Nov. 2 will mean at least two new faces on the council, with the potential for an almost completely new board. For that reason, council members requested Wright and City Manager Lane Bailey provide them with a list of eligible recruiting firms so that some of the groundwork can be laid when the new council is elected. Wright cautioned that those firms may be hiring for managers in other locations as well and said it would be ideal for the new council to make the final decision.

Wright estimates hiring such a firm would cost around $40,000.

Wright said council members must determine the level of confidentiality for the process and how involved they want citizens to be. He said it’s sufficient for council members to make decisions since they’re the elected officials on behalf of the public, but another suggestion is to hold public input sessions as the firm builds the city’s profile. If the council desires the names of the candidates to made public, Wright said each candidate must be notified and granted time to agree to that provision. Wright said that can sometimes deter local candidates from applying or advancing in the process.

Since the process is lengthy and unlikely to be completed by Bailey’s last day, Wright suggested the council consider appointing an interim until the new manager is hired. Council member David Post made a motion, and council members voted in support, to allow Wright to provide the city with an external interim candidate option based on the pool of retirees who have expressed a desire to work in a temporary capacity. The city will also work to identify any internal interim candidates. City Attorney Graham Corriher said any discussion of particular candidates will be held in closed sessions.

The interim manager would have to serve as an assistant until the end of Bailey’s term as only one person can be deemed manager at one time. But Post said it may be beneficial to have someone serve in the gap between Bailey’s departure and the hiring of the new manager. The interim would have the same authority as a full-time manager. Council member Brian Miller said there should be an expectation the interim will begin the budgeting process and that he would like someone familiar with that.

Wright said the manager should be an ideal fit for Salisbury in terms of personality, and they’ll be expected to be an ambassador for the city.

But while Wright urged the council to get started as soon as possible, he also said the final decision shouldn’t be rushed.

“If the board can’t come to the same consensus, start over then,” Wright said. “Take as long as you need to make the right decision … This is the most important decision the board will make. Boards come and go, but the manager has to stay on.”

Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins suggested the background information on the recruiting firms be passed along to all candidates vying for a seat on the council in this year’s election so that they can provide feedback. Miller disagreed, saying the current council is charged with beginning the process and that he doesn’t see the value in sharing that with all candidates at this time.

The salary for Salisbury’s city manager is around $180,000, but Wright said that salary may fluctuate based on the level of experience and accolades the council desires. Additionally, Salisbury is in “a tight market” right now, Wright said, with keeping all of its compensation and benefits competitive.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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