Harnett Commissioners Seek Outside Manager

By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record

Harnett County Commissioners decided to take the search for a new county manager on the road.

Needing a new county manager after Paula Stewart’s retirement, commissioners on Tuesday turned down the initial lot of possible replacements and elected to hire an outside firm to find a suitable candidate.

Former Harnett County Manager Paula Stewart. Contributed photo

Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon supported going outside the county after the initial search failed to impress.

“The previous [request for proposal] that went out, … in my opinion, there was only one of those that should even be considered,” Weatherspoon said. “I would prefer to see us use an outside source. I don’t know that we have experience hiring executive level employees. I’ve hired a number of employees in my career but they weren’t the CEO level. A county manager is at least the CEO level.”

Acting County Manager George Wood said using an outside executive search firm allowed commissioners to tailor their search towards candidates more aligned with local challenges. Wood referenced Harnett County running the third largest water and sewer system in the state and the exploding growth as expertise the board should consider in candidates.

“Not all counties even have water and/or sewer,” said Wood. “It would seem you would probably want to make that a very high priority that whoever you hire has quite a strong background in water and utility work. It’s going to be the driver of all the growth that you’re dealing with. It’s going to impact your growth and that’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.

“Obviously you have a rapid growth rate so you probably want somebody who has a lot of experience dealing with development: planning, zoning, land use planning, that sort of thing.”

Wood said an outside firm will want to sit down with the board and find out exactly what kind of manager they want to see running the county.

“One of the first things they’re going to want to do if you hire a consultant is meet with you and start developing what we call a manager’s profile,” said Wood. “All that term means is that you guys are going to have a serious discussion about what are the qualities and what are the backgrounds that you’re looking for. They will want to do that and we have to go through that process in order to then be able to advertise. Your advertising ought to emphasize a lot of the key characteristics or experience that you’re looking for. I think the best approach is to identify some of these search firms that specialize in local government managers and send it directly to them.”

Commissioner Matt Nicol supported the idea while stressing the importance of putting someone in place.

“I’d like to see it done sooner than later,” Commissioner Matt Nicol said. “We are working on developing a strategic plan right now for the county. I really think it will be imperative and in the county’s best interest if we have a county manager to help with that process.”

Previous candidates, Wood said, can apply for the position again as the process resets.

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