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Slate of 5 Mecklenburg County manager candidates likely to grow

The Charlotte-based search firm hunting for Mecklenburg County’s next county manager has found five outside candidates, but that list is sure to grow when it delivers a final slate by Oct. 17.

So one thing’s for certain: The unofficial Oct. 15 deadline to hire a successor to ousted longtime manager Harry Jones won’t be met.

Janny DeLoache and Shana Plott, executive recruiters for Coleman Lew + Associates, declined to specify at a special meeting Tuesday when commissioners could expect a vote to hire the new manager.

Instead, the board voted 7-0 to open the Oct. 15 regular meeting with a public forum for residents to say what they want in a county manager. Two days later, Coleman Lew will deliver the full list of outside and internal candidates to a search committee of four commissioners.

Board Chairwoman Pat Cotham scheduled Tuesday’s meeting after commissioners Trevor Fuller and George Dunlap said last week they were concerned that the process wasn’t transparent and that commissioners not on the search committee weren’t getting any say on the type of manager the county should seek.

After DeLoache and Plott explained the process for their search – including how a job description was written – Fuller said his concerns were relieved.

“It was a big step toward allaying my concerns,” Fuller said after the meeting. “As far as the commissioners are concerned, the process is now in the open and I believe we will get a better outcome.”

Fuller said he felt adding the Oct. 15 public forum will give residents “ownership” of the process “and that never hurts.”

Commissioner Bill James disagreed, saying he thought a public forum wouldn’t yield much and only delay hiring a new manager.

“Essentially we’re just going to have a group that will come up with all kinds of extraneous crap,” James said. “All it’s going to do is give us another hurdle and risk running people off.”

Four- to six-month search

But after Fuller and commissioner Dumont Clarke and Vice Chairwoman Kim Ratliff insisted that public input was necessary, Clarke moved to add the Oct. 15 forum. Commissioners Dunlap and Matthew Ridenhour were absent.

The forum appeased Fuller, but he said the search firm should have gotten more input from all nine commissioners and the public before it posted a job description.

Plott and DeLoache said most of the description came from the North Carolina statute that defines the duties of the county manager. Plott said they worked with the search committee, “your representative group … We’ve met with each of those folks to get their insight and input.

“But the description overwhelmingly comes straight from the statute.”

Plott said searches like this one typically take four to six months. Fuller said the firm was hired in late June.

Plott said commissioners could decide they don’t like any of the candidates the firm brings to them on Oct. 17, which would lengthen the search. She said Coleman Lew is committed to staying with the process as an adviser to the board until a manager is hired.

“Our goal is to stay extremely involved,” she said.

‘Will take as long as it takes’

So far, Plott said, the search has yielded five viable outside candidates after Coleman Lew spoke to 350 sources and candidates who work in cities and counties of more than 250,000 residents.

Each of those candidates havehas been extensively interviewed by phone and face-to-face either in person or using Skype on the Internet.

“We are delighted with the response we’ve gotten so far,” Plott said. “The word is getting out there and we’ve heard from lots of folks who have an interest in learning more.”

The board fired Jones on May 7. In the interim, longtime general manager Bobbie Shields took over as manager.

Shields is a candidate for the permanent job. Plott and DeLoache told commissioners the firm would use the same process to assess internal and outside candidates.

At the time of Jones’ firing, Cotham, a former executive recruiter, said she wanted his successor in place in time to get acclimated before a new budgeting cycle begins in January.

But last week she said she wouldn’t have agreed to an inflexible deadline, saying Oct. 15 was a goal. “This will take as long as it takes to get the right person,” she said. “We found that the staff is perfectly capable of building a budget.”

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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