In his first Statesboro City Council meeting, new City Manager Randy Wetmore had no decision to announce on the anticipated hiring of a police chief.
But Thursday in his first official day on the job, Wetmore faced an unexpected decision and acted to close City Hall on Friday while Tropical Storm Hermine passed through. So the council's regular meeting Tuesday followed an expanded Labor Day weekend for some employees.
Wetmore visited Statesboro more than once prior to last week's official arrival and was present when three police chief finalists were introduced to the public in a meet-and-greet Aug. 9.
More recently, Deputy City Manager Robert Cheshire, who served as interim city manager for 26 months before Wetmore took over Sept. 1, said they hoped for a decision by Tuesday's meeting. But Wetmore made no announcement.
"We will be working to come to a conclusion on that, hopefully this week," he said when asked after the meeting.
Wetmore said he is still taking in information and visiting with staff members as he tries to come up with the best decision. Asked why it is taking so long, he smiled and noted that he had only been on the job since Thursday.
"I think it's just a really important decision, and I think everybody wants to make sure that it's the right one, and I think it's good to be deliberate when we're going to be making those kinds of decisions," he said.
Just in from Iowa
Wetmore was hired to be Statesboro's manager on a unanimous council vote July 12 and then gave notice in Marshalltown, Iowa, where he had served as city manager since 2010. Originally from Kansas, Wetmore has a Master of Public Administration from the University of Kansas and has worked for cities in five different states, from Oregon to Tennessee, over the past 37 years.
He and his wife, Andrea, or "Andy," are in the process of buying a home here. If things work out for the house they now have in mind, they will be living in the city limits of Statesboro, Wetmore said.
Marshalltown, hometown of tool manufacturer the Marshalltown Company, is a city of about 27,600 people. In comparison, Statesboro, home of Georgia Southern University, has about 30,700 people, according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
Besides the fact that Statesboro's climate is "warmer," one difference is that its city government provides more utility services than Marshalltown's, Wetmore said.
Not only does Marshalltown not have a natural gas system - while Statesboro operates one extending from Screven County to Metter in Candler County - the city in Iowa doesn't have its own water system, either. Garbage collection in Marshalltown is also handled by independent contractors, and the city gives residents information on those available, he said.
But Marshalltown operates a sanitary sewer system and a storm water utility, as well as having police and fire departments and city streets. Statesboro just added a fee and a crew last year to improve and maintain its storm water drainage system, making it a separate utility.
Other cities Wetmore worked for had water systems and even an electrical power service, but never Statesboro's particular mix of utilities.
Marshalltown has about 200 city employees; Statesboro has 300. But the workforces in other cities where Wetmore served ranged from fewer than 30 employees in the first small town to about 700 in Franklin, Tennessee, and 1,700 in Des Moines, the capital of Iowa.
From 2008 to 2010, Wetmore was an assistant city manager in Des Moines, which has more than 200,000 residents and a metro area of about 500,000. He served as liaison to three departments of the city government.
Friday closure a first
But Sept. 1-2 brought a first in Wetmore's career. His first day under contract coincided with forecasts that Tropical Storm Hermine, which briefly became a hurricane, would cut across southern and eastern Georgia from Florida's Gulf Coast.
Late Thursday afternoon, Wetmore made the call to close nonessential city services, including City Hall, all day Friday.
"That's the first time in my 37 years that I've been in a city that's actually closed for a day," Wetmore said. "We've always opened, even through some fairly good-sized blizzards, but I think it was the right thing to do after I visited with staff and I'd seen that Georgia Southern was closing and the school district was closing and the county was closing."
But he and Cheshire reported to work about 6:30 a.m. Friday and went to Bulloch County's Emergency Operations Center. They then drove around on Statesboro's streets, and Cheshire showed him places that typically flood.
Wetmore said this is good knowledge for him for the future. But he and Cheshire saw few problems during the time they were out.
"There were a lot of creeks and ditches that were really, really close, but I think we were fortunate in that when those waves would come through, then there would be a wave when it didn't rain, so we really never got to that point," Wetmore said.
He went back to City Hall and worked until about 4 p.m. Friday, finding it a nice, quiet place while closed - but it wasn't so quiet Tuesday morning. While the council met upstairs, people lined up downstairs to pay their utility bills after the Friday-Monday closure and with some bills delayed by the city's transition to a new computer billing system.
As one of its actions Tuesday, City Council added Wetmore to the city's retirement plan with the Georgia Municipal Association. Under his contract, the city is paying 4 percent of his $140,000-a-year starting salary into the plan as deferred compensation.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.