Public forum for town manager is a great idea

If only it had surfaced earlier
Jul 07, 2013

Canton Mayor Mike Ray was on the right track when he suggested there should be a public forum to introduce finalists for the town manager post.

The board of alderman were also correct in their conclusion the issue should have been part of the initial advertisement for the job if it was to occur.

More than anything, the matter showed the ongoing divide between the town mayor and its governing board. It is a pity that there is obviously a communication breakdown between the two as the disconnect hampers efforts to move forward.

Soon after learning Town Manager Al Matthews intended to retire at the year’s end, elected leaders began the search process. It is unfortunate the idea of having a public forum or some sort of “meet and greet” for the candidate finalists wasn’t part of the initial discussions.

The town manager position is extremely important, and citizens should have the privilege of meeting at least the top two finalists. As the mayor and some attending last week’s meeting pointed out, it not only gives citizens a chance to meet the person who can be instrumental in helping the town prosper, but also gives the prospect a chance to see what kind of people he or she will be working with. There is a lot of good that can come out of that process.

However, when Ray proposed the idea last week, aldermen declined to make a motion allowing such a forum. Since the mayor cannot vote unless there is a tie or make a motion, the idea went nowhere.

Aldermen correctly noted there are privacy issues that prevent releasing applicant names without their permission. Several objected to including such provisions at the outset as it could prevent good candidates from applying. We disagree with the latter. The public interest aspect should be given greater weight. However, injecting this in mid-process is sending a mixed signal to the applicants — one that says the board doesn’t know what it wants or can’t make up its mind. Applicants may begin to wonder about other challenges beneath they surface they could face if they accept the job.

While  an applicant who really wants a position shouldn’t be stopped by the knowledge their interest in it will become public, to spring the issue on the finalists at the 11th hour is not the way to go. While participation in a meet and greet was proposed as optional, it would be hard for aldermen to not think of that as they winnowed down the list for town manager. At this point, it makes little sense to start the process anew.

Given the situation, the aldermen took the best compromise avenue available by inviting town residents to give them a call about the characteristics they would like to see in a town manager and provide any questions they want addressed during the interview process.

It is possible citizens might come up with issues the board wouldn’t think to ask, and such imput could shed new light on the process.

Nonetheless, the special-called meeting illustrated the ongoing disconnect within the town’s leadership, with the mayor taking one point of view and the board unified in another. This is not the first time such a thing has happened.

There was the $20,000 spent to upgrade the town’s website — an issue that again was already perking along one track when the mayor had another idea. Again, the idea to have Haywood Community College design the site was a good one, but it came midstream.

There are other issues where the mayor and town board clearly don’t see eye to eye, and perhaps this is part of the reason issues often languish for months.

We’re certain all the town’s leaders are doing their very best to benefit a community they love. Their efforts would be much more effective if they could find a way to work together.

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