Canton residents outline characteristics of a new town manager

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 22, 2014

CANTON — About 50 Canton area residents set aside an hour or so of their Saturday afternoon to share their views on what will likely be one of the most important decisions made by the town’s governing board — selecting a new town manager.

Mayor Mike Ray said there are 80 applicants for the job, some of which applied almost a year ago when Al Matthews announced he was retiring at the end of 2013.

Ray said he has been in contact with all the applicants, and most of the original applicants are still interested.

He said he has pulled the names of those who have moved on, and added new names gathered when the application process was reopened.

During the informal process Saturday, residents took turns coming to the microphone to outline the attributes of their ideal town manager.

Edie Burnette’s remarks were echoed by several others who said she hit the nail on the head in asking for a manager who cared about recreation and cared about town employees. She asked board members to check, double-check and check again the background and references of applicants “so we don’t inherit someone else’s problem.”

Tracy O’Neil, who lives in Cruso but is active in helping revitalize the town’s recreation area at Camp Hope, asked the board to choose a strong leader with proven leadership skills and the ability to form partnerships in the extended community.

“Pick a strong leader to create value, one who will see the advantages along the I-40 corridor,” he said.

Gene Monson said he had heard a lot of comments from people wanting an innovative leader, but urged the board to find someone who will pay attention to details.

“We need someone who will impress you with attention to the basics,” he said.

Roy Taylor, who was one of the candidates for town alderman during the November election, asked the board to make sure whoever they hired lives within the town of Canton and pays taxes there.

“When Bill Stamey was town manager, every afternoon he would drive to a different part of Canton,” Taylor said. “I hope you pick the right man for the job.”

“Or woman,” said board member Carole Edwards as he was walking away from the stage. From then on, references to the next town manager were framed as “he or she.”

Others asked for a manager who would take pride in the town and respect the culture of the mill town.

Others, including former town employee Russell Teague, noted that town workers are concerned both about the new board and the type of manager they would hire.

“Make sure whoever you hire won’t have a deaf ear to employees,” he asked.

Several business owners in the county were on hand to urge the board to find a manager who cares not just about the town but the extended community.

Barbara Edwards, who said she has served on numerous town boards and committees, asked that the ex-officio board representatives to the committees attend the meetings and make sure those who agree to serve on the committees show up, too.

Town board members addressed the group following the meeting. Most said the qualities and priorities expressed by the residents dovetailed their own thoughts on the hiring decision.

When Matthews announced his retirement in January 2013, the previous board held numerous discussions about finding his replacement, but was unable to reach a decision. Assistant Town Manager Jason Burrell was named as interim manager until a permanent replacement can be found.

Ray said seven of the applicants were interviewed during last year’s process, but the board was unable to reach a consensus on who to hire. The new board has started the process anew and decided to ask the town residents to weigh in on the process. Last year, the board was at odds about whether to hold a public meet and greet with the manager finalists. The mayor argued for such a forum and the remainder of the board said springing such a idea on candidates who may not have told their present employer they are searching for another job and who didn’t know that would be part of the process would be unfair.

Ray said he still likes the idea of an optional public forum for finalists, but said no decision has been made on the idea by the new board.

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