Criteria for economic director set by council

Friday, July 23, 2010

Applicants to be Lewisburg's next economic developer will have to: have a college degree; write an essay or two; and pass inspection by a committee appointed by the mayor to recommend a candidate to be hired by the city manager.

That's according to discussion among city councilmen during a workshop and voting session held on Tuesday in City Hall to develop criteria for applicants. They have until 4:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 3, to respond. Interviews start the next week. A decision might be made when the council meets on Sept. 14. The successful candidate's annual salary was described as $40,000 to $68,000, but there might be a base pay plus incentives for landing new employers. The number of new jobs might be a factor on the incentive's value.

Comments among councilmen leading to a unanimous vote for the hiring process and schedule alternated from dead serious to lighthearted.

"Whoever gets that job should be good at communications," Councilman Quinn Brandon Stewart said. "They ought to write a two-page summary on what they would do."

"Being a school teacher," Councilman Robin Minor, a middle school history instructor and athletic director, said, "I'm for that."

City Manager Eddie Fuller interjected the prospect of a ghostwriter: "Being a school teacher, you know they might not write it."

"Maybe," Stewart responded, "we'll have them write something on the spot."

Councilman Ronald McRady said the city's next economic developer ought to have a bachelor's degree in economics, finance, business, or some field of study that's relevant to the job.

Mayor Barbara Woods steered discussion to the question of whether the council wants her to appoint a screening panel. It does. Councilmen also agreed they ought not be on the panel, but apparently they could attend interviews if they want to.

Minor suggested help be obtained from the University of Tennessee's Municipal Technical Advisory Service to analyze applications and report candidates' strengths and weaknesses.

McRady said he could do the analysis.

"I'm not too high on MTAS," McRady said. "I've been in on meetings with them and I'm not impressed."

Woods sought a conclusion on how candidates would be culled: "Just so we don't get to the point of three of you wanting one person and the other two don't."

"Oh," Stewart said on a recurring subject in the discussion, "there's going to be pressure."

Discussion settled on what was the general consensus expressed at a previous meeting. The mayor will appoint five people to sit on a panel to receive applications and make a recommendation.

It was clear that councilmen would be expressing their views on the recommended candidate in order to help the city manager make a job offer to the apparent best candidate.

"We've done this before," Fuller said of interview panels.

He also reminded councilmen that there's a high probability that the person he hires for the job will be the candidate with the greatest support among the councilmen. It might not be a simple head count, however. Fuller has had to weigh how strongly one official feels compared to another's steadfast position.

There was some discussion about interview meetings. McRady said he wanted to be on the interview panel, but withdrew that request when he remembered the council hires the city attorney, not the economic developer. He also indicated an interest in attending the meetings, adding that he believes the process should be as transparent as possible.

After the meeting, Minor indicated his opposition to a public disclosure of the applicants' names. However, he acknowledged that the applications would become public records when a public official receives the documents. There was less discussion on the application of the open meetings law if more than one councilman attended an interview at any one time.

Attending the meeting were Edmund Roberts, chairman of the local Joint Economic and Community Development Board as well as the city's Community Development Comittee, and Bob Binkley, the attorney for the city's Industrial Development Board that receives reports from the city economic developer. Binkley defended the JECDB in Chancery Court after the board's executive committee refused to release the names of applicants for the job now held by Mike Wiles, the executive director of the JECDB. Chancellor J.B. Cox ruled the applications are public records.