The search for Aiken's next city manager is starting to pick up.
While the position has not yet been published, Council started the discussion this past week of what it wants to see in the next city manager and how to go about finding that person.
The city manager's seat was vacated in June when former City Manager Richard Pearce resigned from the position. Council then unanimously voted to hire former City Manager Roger LeDuc as interim city manager. LeDuc's contract says he will serve in that position for six months.
During Council's most recent committee meeting, members Mayor Fred Cavanaugh, Lessie Price, Dick Dewar and Philip Merry debated whether applicants should be sought only within South Carolina or whether the search should be extended to national applicants.
There was some sentiment that it would be better to open up a search nationally to select the best individual, and all Council members agreed the next city manager must have a likable personality and strong leadership skills.
Each Council member was asked by the Aiken Standard what they would like to see in their next city manager. Their answers are below.
Mayor Fred Cavanaugh: “I would look for a person who has been successful serving as a city manager, or possibly an assistant city manager, for at least five years in one location, with a population of at least 25,000 to 35,000 residents. I would prefer a person that has a degree in public administration and a very good background in finance and budgeting. What I want in a city manager is a person who has very good to excellent management, communication and people skills when it comes to working with our employees, City Council and interacting with our citizens. This person also needs to be a good listener, friendly, but not afraid to say no when it's necessary; and also be involved in our community. I do want to make it clear that some of my views may change a little when Council finally comes together to consolidate our thoughts and move forward.”
Steve Homoki: “Hopefully, the next city manager will have extensive experience in running a city of comparable size to Aiken. As to specific expertise, the city manager will need to ensure that the department heads he or she hires, and works with, have those specific areas of expertise. We need a city manager who has his or her hands on the pulse of the city. He or she has to be flexible and be able to work with the Council and the citizens of Aiken, and keep them informed in a timely fashion. Ideally, he or she should be unanimously supported for the position by the Council, and should in turn understand his responsibilities to the city and Council. By definition, he or she needs to be a good manager.”
Gail Diggs: “I would prefer someone with a background in public or business administration, or a closely related field. Someone with experience working with cities comparable to the size of Aiken. I would like a city manager that has knowledge in strategic planning, budgeting and has good planning and financial skills. Someone who is even tempered, honest, fair, ethical and respectful. I think that it's also important that they have an ‘open door policy' for community members, be a visionary and be able to work with the department directors without micromanaging them. They should also foster a positive working environment, built on team work and trust. Strong listening and community skills, a must, and approachability, a plus.”
Dick Dewar: “The most important quality I will be looking for in a new city manager is the ability to work well as a team member. I will look for someone who has an outgoing personality and an excellent background in municipal administration. In my opinion, experience as a public works director or as a finance director is preferable since each of these fields present the largest challenge to running a city like Aiken. I also would look for demonstrated performance in leadership, decision making and compassion. I will endeavor to choose the best candidate available. I will not feel compelled to choose any applicant who is not qualified for the job not likely to succeed as the city manager.”
Lessie Price: “Have prior experience as a city manager, a knowledge of finance and fiscal management, economic development and master planning. (Other qualities) include good communication skills, innovative and creative with superior leaders and management background, a team builder, must be a people person who genuinely cares about managing the city and the employees and emphasize employee development. (Other qualities) include treat people fairly as assets, remain optimistic when things are uncertain, but realistic, but take calculated risks, a strategic thinker and a person that has some idea of latest technologies to improve services.”
Philip Merry: “The selection of the city manager is extremely important, and my preference would be to have someone with formal education in municipal planning and administration, as well as a positive track record of work experience. I would also prefer someone who had overcome small city challenges in unique and inventive ways. Aiken, itself, is unique, and I would favor a city manager who does not simply apply cookie cutter solutions to those singular challenges that make Aiken so individually special ... I also would prefer someone who is a creative problem solver, who is a consensus builder, is an excellent manager of people and who is fiscally conservative. It is also important to have someone who is very forward thinking; a visionary ... I would also note that I think it is important to cast our net as far and as wide as is practical ... We are a very sophisticated city and are quite culturally accomplished. We deserve the very best in administrative talent. I would be inclined to undertake a professional and systematic search for the strongest city manager available; the residents of Aiken deserve it.”
Reggie Ebner: “I'd rather the Council get together as a formal body and discuss it, and make a statement at that time.”
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard.