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Commissioners to interview manager finalists starting Friday

trevor fuller, with 76p
Courtesy of Trevor Fuller -
Commissioner Trevor Fuller

The prolonged search for a new Mecklenburg County manager enters a critical stage Friday, with the full board of commissioners interviewing five final candidates.

The latest phase comes amid a backdrop of a new board chair who has been openly critical of the process and at least one commissioner who is concerned about attempts to add more names to the list. Meanwhile, interim County Manager Bobbie Shields emailed commissioners asking why “my name wasn’t advanced to the full board.”

Commissioners are scheduled to go into closed session at 8:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday to interview the candidates, new board Chairman Trevor Fuller said Thursday.

Fuller has been critical about the transparency of the board’s search committee. He said the public should be more involved in the hiring but said he didn’t know how the entire board felt about opening up the process.

“I don’t have any specific ideas about how that would look ... but I suspect we’ll have a conversation about that subject,” Fuller said.

He declined to discuss the Shields email, saying it was a personnel matter.

Shields, 60, has been interim manager since the board fired longtime manager Harry Jones last May. He was among the original 17 candidates for the permanent job, but didn’t make the final list of six candidates. One dropped out.

First public knowledge that he hadn’t made the cut came last week when commissioner George Dunlap said there were no African-Americans included among the final six. Shields is black.

Wednesday, Dunlap, who was not a search committee member, emailed Shields that he’d compared Shields’ resume package to the five on the short list. “Based on the information provided, if qualification and experience were the criteria, there is no reason you would not have made the short list,” Dunlap wrote.

Shields plans to retire

Shields said Thursday the email to commissioners was intended to be confidential and making it public put him in “an awkward position.” He wouldn’t discuss the search process. He said he sent it because he wanted to “understand why and whether the reaction I got (from the search committee) was accurate or not.”

In his email, he said he’d received some feedback that he hadn’t “established equitable eye contact” and didn’t “aggressively sell myself.” He said he accepts full responsibility for not meeting the committee’s expectations, but added he was concerned the committee “might not have received the full package of information” he’d submitted about his qualifications.

“This is not really about me,” Shields said Thursday. “It’s about making sure we have the best-qualified person as the next county manager. I feel I’m indeed qualified. I’ve run the county since May. But apparently they feel they have candidates who are more qualified than I am.

“As a Mecklenburg County resident, a taxpayer, I’m very excited that they are talking to candidates with qualifications that would exceed mine. We should all be excited about what that means for the community.”

Having worked 27 years for the county, Shields said it was no secret that he’d planned to retire last August. But after Jones was fired, he said he felt it was “important to stay around for stability and offer my expertise during a difficult time.”

He said he plans to retire from the county after a new manager takes office. “I am eligible for retirement, but I will be supportive of whoever is county manager,” Shields said.

No plans to change list

The interviews follow the board’s ousting of Democratic commissioner Pat Cotham as chairwoman last week, replacing her with Fuller, also a Democrat.

At that meeting and since then, Republican commissioner Bill James said he was concerned five of the six Democrats made the change in an attempt to manipulate the search process, or add Shields to the final list.

Fuller has said repeatedly that he doesn’t intend change the process, and that the new county manager likely will come from the five candidates who will appear before the board in the next two days.

Dunlap and new Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke, both Democrats, said after the meeting there’s been no discussion about changing the list.

“As far as I know I don’t expect any names to be added to the list,” Fuller said Thursday. “I don’t know what will happen with the interviews. That depends on the full board’s views on these candidates. Theoretically there could be a change, but I don’t expect it to happen.”

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