Statesboro City Council launched a search for a new city manager Tuesday, a full year after firing former City Manager Frank Parker. A proposal to create a new deputy city manager post for interim City Manager Robert Cheshire is also on the table.
But the council postponed action on creating the new post and hiring Cheshire to it after disagreeing over which departments should report to him.
Cheshire, previously head of the engineering department as city engineer, remains interim city manager, and will while the search is conducted. He could still apply for the city manager’s position, but would be considered along with other applicants.
“Most of my interest is in the deputy position, the way that it was being described to me,” Cheshire said later Tuesday. “I feel that my experience and talents would allow me to jump in there and be very effective.”
If the deputy manager’s position were offered as explained in the proposed job description Tuesday, it would be the job he wants, subject to salary negotiation, Cheshire said.
He has been given no raise, but the same salary he received as city engineer, for a year now as interim city manager. Senior Assistant City Engineer Jason Boyles currently serves as interim city engineer.
So hiring a different city manager without creating some new position would have meant returning both of them to their prior positions.
“I’m appreciative of what they’re looking at,” Cheshire said. “They’ve given me an opportunity and some options, and I’m interested in considering those.”
Human Resources Director Jeff Grant said the deputy city manager would be assigned to a pay grade where the starting salary is about $81,000. This is the city’s second highest pay bracket.
In fact, both the salary scale for city engineer and the proposed scale for deputy city manager range upward through experience steps.
With 19 years experience with the city, first from 1992 to 2004 and again since 2009, Cheshire is already paid a little more than $100,000 a year, he acknowledged. Both he and some council members have said he would receive a raise as deputy city manager.
Cheshire has a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Georgia and is a registered professional engineer in Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
Neither pay nor qualifications was the reason for Tuesday’s postponement.
Providing the proposed job description, Grant said the deputy city manager would be assigned oversight of the Natural Gas, Engineering, Water and Sewer, and Planning and Development departments.
This would mean that other departments, including Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology and Public Safety, which includes the police and fire departments, would not be under the deputy manager’s oversight. Their department heads would report directly to the city manager.
Councilman Travis Chance asked why Public Safety was excluded.
One consideration was the number of responsibilities, Grant said.
“Also we were thinking of the strengths of your current, or potential, deputy city manager in terms of engineering,” he added.
The suggested departments were also those included under deputy managers’ responsibilities in some other cities, Grant said. The deputy manager’s responsibilities would also include special projects assigned by the city manager.
Councilman Phil Boyum suggested that Information Technology also report to Cheshire.
Chance and Councilman Will Britt said the original discussion had been for all departments to report to the deputy city manager as second-in-command.
“After talking to the potential candidate, I think he expressed why that was more difficult, but I do think that the candidate and the new city manager can make that call. …,” Britt said. “I want the candidate more than the job title. … I was looking at it from, we were creating a position for Robert Cheshire.”
Mayor Jan Moore also said that the new city manager, when hired, could reassign the deputy manager’s departmental responsibilities as needed. The deputy manager would answer to the manager and not directly to the mayor and council.
But after the departmental assignments remained a sticking point, Grant said revisions would need to be made in writing. Chance, seconded by Britt, then moved to table both the creation of the new post and hiring Cheshire to fill it.
Search firm hired
Before that discussion, the council unanimously authorized hiring Slavin Management Consultants to conduct the search for a city manager. The Norcross-based firm submitted a long list of cities and counties it has helped find executives, including several in the Southeast but also as far away as Colorado and New England.
The council approved spending up to $22,591 with Slavin. This includes $14,575 in fees plus potential expenses capped at $8,016. The proposal states that finalists’ travel to Statesboro is not included and would be paid directly by the city.
Using qualifications provided by City Council, Slavin would typically identify about 12 semifinalists from the applicants. This pool will then be narrowed to about five who will be interviewed by the council, Grant said.
The firm projected that the search will take 60 to 90 days. Moore said she hopes the new city manager will be hired before the end of the year.
How it came about
Tuesday’s proposals emerged from previous closed-door sessions and individual conversations among Cheshire and the mayor and council members. Hiring is one of the topics that legally can be discussed in closed session.
“It was pointed out to me that the city manager needed some help, that he’s just got too much on his plate, and the more that was explained and the more I learned about it, the more I agreed with it,” Councilman John Riggs said after the meeting.
The idea of a deputy manager who would oversee special projects sprang from the fact that the city has so many projects underway, from water and sewer extension to the rebuilding of Georgia Southern University’s City Campus, Boyum said in an interview. “This position allows us to capitalize on Robert’s expertise and at the same time afford him the career position that could advance his career in the future,” he said.
Having an experienced deputy could also help with the manager search, Boyum said.
“Our city has just grown to the size that we realize that we need some additional administrative help on a higher level,” Moore said. “Obviously, Robert carries a tremendous amount of talent, and he would be excellent for that position. It’s just a matter at this point in time of adjusting the job description where council is happy with it.”
Parker was city manager from 2011 until City Council fired him by a 3-2 vote on June 24, 2014, over a remark he made at a department heads meeting about having held private meetings with a majority of the council. He has a wrongful firing lawsuit pending against the city.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.