Find what you’re looking for

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 25, 2004

The resignation of Ahoskie Town Manager Russell Overman has presented an opportunity for the town council and mayor to seek a replacement who can lead Ahoskie into a new era.

How they conduct the search for that individual will go a long way in demonstrating their commitment to finding the best person for the job.

The town manager is a vital cog in Ahoskie’s wheels of government, being charged with the effective leadership of the town’s several departments, but the job just begins with day-to-day management; it is much more.

Like the council and mayor, the town manager must have a vision for the future of Ahoskie and be effective in moving the town in that direction.

A manager must be a skillful communicator, able to blend divergent constituencies into an effective whole.

He or she must be able to aggressively identify and solve problems, while working in a collaborative manner, confronting and solving thorny issues in a non-confrontational style.

In pursuing town management, the right individual will take charge, but not micro-manage; will be direct, but not authoritarian; will facilitate, but not be manipulative; and, will communicate in clear, easy to understand language.

Team builders should apply.

Ahoskie’s search shouldn’t be rushed.

If the council sets its sights high, it will be necessary to seek applicants from far and near, to solicit the help of all resources, including, perhaps, a professional search firm skilled and experienced in filling these types of jobs.

Search firms cost money, a few thousand dollars, only if a candidate is selected and, often, only if the person lasts through an initial period of adjustment.

Having the wrong person as town manager could cost millions, a lesson that can be confirmed by checking the experiences of other cities and towns that have made a hiring error.

It’s likely that candidates will come from towns smaller than Ahoskie, looking to move up, but the council should be wary of making that kind of choice.

Not that these wouldn’t be fine individuals, but their vision and breadth of experience would be limited in scope.

It would be better if the council were to look for people who’ve held a second or third tier job in a larger town, the larger the better, where they would have more wide ranging experiences and will likely have developed resources helpful to Ahoskie.

Tapping a person with success in urban planning and urban renewal, combined with supervisory or managerial experience would be a good match, given the town’s impending efforts at downtown revitalization and the potential for future development and annexation.

Many local governments use hiring a new town manager as a time for review and rededication to their goals and standards.

In developing the job description and standards of performance for candidates, they outline the aspirations of the populace and present a clear objective the chosen candidate will be expected to achieve.

Making a list of job duties isn’t enough, nor is it the most important task in the search.

Striking the vision, seeking people who can share and implement that vision, that’s the job now.

Collaboration with the citizens should be a part of this process.

A well publicized

town council meeting held in a discussion format, with open citizen participation would be good way to clarify and define the town’s priorities.

Gaining direction from such an exercise would enable the preparation of a job description that outlined goals and vision, as well as duties.

A candid discussion among the council members will probably reveal some differences in how each believes the search should be conducted, and in the result each envisions.

Coming from varying parts of the community, this is to be expected; but, such differences should be easy to breach when discovered.

Left unexplored, though, their presence will tend to undermine the search process and increase the likelihood the town won’t get the best available candidate.

Ahoskie has the same stresses as most other towns.

Many long-term residents often argue for no change, putting the town in freeze frame, making it a photograph, instead of an ever changing movie.

Others see the town in terms of politics and ethnic groups, framing every decision in terms of power and control.

Others are casually involved; still more completely disconnected.

A new town manager must coalesce and galvanize all these groups and more; it isn’t a job for the timid or tired.

Hiring this manager will likely be the most important task this council will face and it will affect the lives of Ahoskie residents for decades to come.

They must realize as part time elected officials, they need to seek out professional help for this job, just as they have sought engineers, architects, attorneys and other professional for specialized work.

Don’t rush this job.

Take several months, if necessary.

Do a true search with professional help.

Don’t limit your town’s options by limiting your search.

Find the best available, considering all factors, then make the choice.