Aiken City Council should proceed with caution as it searches for its next city manager.
The last thing the city needs is another tumultuous tenure that’s tinged with friction between the city manager’s office and members of Council.
Residents shouldn’t always expect the city manager-city council relationship to be completely harmonious, but there needs to be a reasonable level of cohesiveness. That cohesiveness clearly began to crumble under previous City Manager Richard Pearce, who resigned on June 6 amid criticism over Winter Storm PAX clean-up efforts.
Bringing in someone with an amenable personality who is also knowledgeable is key – it’s unlikely anyone would argue that point.
Where some derision seems to exist is how wide of a net Council should cast in its search. Some councilmembers appear inclined to undergo a national search, but the best strategy would be a more regional search concentrated on the Southeast.
While posting an advertisement online will likely attract candidates from all over the country, the smartest option for Council would be to pick someone with a familiarity of the region.
Candidates from the Northeast, Midwest and West shouldn’t be disqualified merely because of where they live and work, but focusing on candidates who are knowledgeable of the South and the region’s governmental organizations would be advantageous.
Interim City Manager Roger LeDuc – who is originally from the Midwest – even indicated this mindset at Council’s committee meeting on Wednesday, which was geared toward finding the best method possible to pick the next city manager.
“Having the context and knowledge of people in South Carolina does make a difference,” LeDuc said. “There is a distinct advantage in finding someone that understands the culture of the South, South Carolina and what we’re trying to achieve in this town.”
Looking around the state, the city manager of Columbia, Teresa Wilson, is a native of South Carolina, as is the city manager of Greenville, John Castile, and the city manager of North Augusta, Todd Glover.
It simply makes sense to have someone who already has the institutional knowledge of an area to be tasked with helping to run it. People familiar with the region tend to know the key political and governmental players, as well as the organizations that are important resources to city managers such as the S.C. Municipal Association. Having those connections could prove vital in ensuring Aiken has a bright future.
Picking a city manager is somewhat fresh in the minds of Aiken residents – Pearce was hired only a few years ago – but there clearly hasn’t been much turnover in the position. Only four men have held the post in the past 50 years.
Council should obviously be looking for individuals who have long-term plans to stay in Aiken and are prepared to invest a lot of time and energy in the community.
Pearce was making more than $100,000 as manager, and it stands to reason that the next administrator would take home a similar salary. The city manager is probably the most visible member of administration and one of, if not the highest, paid. Aiken needs someone who will go out and earn that salary and be an integral part of moving the city forward.
It’s a positive sign that members of City Council are setting aside time outside of regular Council meetings to try to determine the best path in picking the city manager. LeDuc certainly deserves praise for helping to organize those committee meetings, which have seemingly triggered a renewed focus among members of Council.
Having that open dialogue is imperative, but it’s also key that Council find a reasonable balance between having a long and careful discussion and taking swift action. The longer it takes to find a replacement, the less certain Aiken’s future appears to look.
Council should also set reasonable expectations and develop a clear understanding of what they want. Only then will they find the right person for the job.