Canton needs to get serious about town manager search

Oct 15, 2013

This January, Canton Town Manager Al Matthews told his bosses he planned to retire at the end of the year.

That left the town’s mayor and board of aldermen almost a full year to find a replacement for the veteran manager who has served the town, first as an assistant manager and then as manager for the past 13 years.

As the board sought applications, weighed options and squabbled about the level of public input allowed in the process, weeks and then months slipped away.

The application date closed in April, and out of the initial stack of 40 applications, five were eventually interviewed. The board must have found something lacking in the applicants or the applicant pool, because nobody was hired.

Or, perhaps those applying simply grew tired of waiting and found jobs elsewhere.  In any event, the board put out the word they would continue to accept applications that were rolling in.

Now the current board of aldermen — all of whom have decided to not seek re-election — have only two scheduled meetings left before the end of their term. That will leave only the mayor with any knowledge about the applicants, their interviews and an assessment of whether a good fit for the town is just waiting to be hired.

If it’s the new board that makes the decision on hiring a manager, common sense tells us they would want to start the process all over again.

Considering that naming a town manager is one of the most important tasks a town governing board has to do, the lackluster way it has been handled in Canton certainly does little to raise public confidence in the town’s leadership.

In reality, the town board has one employee directly under its supervision — its manager. The other town employees are under the direct supervision of the manager. It is the job of the manager to transform the policies and directives set by the board into action.

Before the previous board promoted Matthews, it went through an exhaustive process that took longer than the current search, but there was little doubt the town was in good hands. Matthews had years of experience, first as the Maggie Valley town manager, then as the assistant to Bill Stamey, whose knowledge of local government issues was legendary across the state, and then as interim manager during the search.

That depth of experience isn’t in place this go-around.

Let’s hope the new Canton board members, fresh off the campaign trail and full of enthusiasm for the tasks that lie ahead, will attach a sense of urgency to the town manager search.

We need leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions and not be paralyzed when confronted by an important choice.