Search For Harnett County Manager Continues

Board narrows down list of recruiters

By Eliot Duke
Dunn Daily Record

Harnett County commissioners took a key first step in finding a new permanent county manager.

George Wood

Commissioners on Monday morning narrowed its hunt for a search firm down to two candidates after the board unanimously voted to interview Mercer Group and Slavin Management Consultants. The firm selected by commissioners will be tasked with providing a list of qualified candidates for the county manager position to the board.

“We really do need to make this decision and get on with it,” Acting County Manager George Wood told commissioners at their work session last week. “We tapped the market and it is what it is.”

Commissioners selected the two firms from a list of six candidates, electing to go with ones with regional ties to the city/county manager network. Wood said a firm with connections in the area will be able to recognize qualified applicants easier than a one more centralized in another part of the country.

“What you’re really paying for is their contacts in the county manager and city manager realm,” said Wood. “Instead of just responding to the advertisements out there, a recruitment firm should be able to identify county managers who have a known reputation, ideally in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia. They literally pick up the phone and call. That is the edge that you get. That way you’ve got people who have a better chance of recruiting here.”

Commissioner Lew Weatherspoon expressed interest in going with a firm with local connections after seeing other candidates with very little experience in North Carolina. Wood, who signed a 6-month contract after replacing former County Manager Paula Stewart in May, said those regional contacts are key to finding the right potential match.

“If you’re looking for people who personally know city and county managers in North Carolina you probably want to look at somebody who has done searches in recent years in North Carolina,” Wood said. “They may have somebody who came in second (for another job) but is an excellent manager. They will make a note for a future vacancy. That’s what you’re paying for.”

Chairman W. Brooks Matthews felt it was time to move the process forward.

“Personally, I don’t see any benefit in going back out again,” said Matthews of the search firm search. “I think we take what we’ve got and make a decision from those who expressed an interest in working with us.”

Once a selection is made, Wood said the next key step will be hiring a county manager with a specific skillset tailored towards the needs and goals of Harnett County. Wood recommended looking at candidates with a background in utilities like water and sewer, as well as someone versed in tackling complex issues associated with growth.

“(The search firm’s) first order of business is to meet with you,” Wood said. “They’re going to ask you to tell them what you’re looking for. What are your priorities as far as a manager? Somethings are givens. For instance, you have the third largest water and sewer system in the state so you need somebody who is experienced in water, sewer utilities. That’s not true for every county. I think you still need to go through a detailed search. My personal opinion is you need to go out and see what’s out there and attract someone with regular experience.”

Commissioner Matt Nicol, after asking why the county garnered such a low response from possible search firms, said an interested candidate who had been in consideration for the county manager job before reached out to him about the position.

“Is it possible to interview him prior to any of this?” Nicol asked during last week’s board work session in regards to its rules and guidelines on the hiring process. “I’d hate to waste money. I personally think this individual is spot-on.”

Commissioner Barbara McKoy balked at the idea, saying the board already has a system in place.

“My personal thoughts on that are I don’t think any commissioner should be reaching out to hire a county manager here,” said McKoy. “I think we should go through the search team and that’s the proper way for us to do (this). We should go through the proper procedure and hire people who are qualified to run this county. It’s going to be a huge job with the growth that we have here and the economic growth development that we’re trying to build.”

Nicol stressed that he did not contact anyone about the position.

“I didn’t know this individual until he reached out to me expressing interest,” Nicol said. “That’s why I was asking the proper procedures and how to handle that.”

Commissioners hope to have a search firm selected by the end of the month.

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