City Council to interview 5 city manager candidates
by Paige Rentz
prentz@annistonstar.com
Jul 30, 2013 | 3935 views |  0 comments | 52 52 recommendations | email to a friend | print
From among nearly 80 applicants, five candidates have emerged as frontrunners to become Anniston’s next city manager.

The Anniston City Council agreed Tuesday to begin interviews with these candidates next week via Internet video chat, with the hope they can conduct in-person interviews during the weeks of Aug. 12 and Aug. 19. The position will become vacant once current City Manager Don Hoyt retires at the end of August.

Out of a pool of nearly 80 applicants, council members submitted their top five choices, from which the applicants were ranked via a point system. The City Council has offered interviews to Angela Christian, Steve Howard, Brian Johnson, Scott Larese and Gerald Smith.

Mayor Vaughn Stewart emphasized Tuesday that just because the council has opted to move forward with interviews for these five candidates, it does not mean that the rest of the candidate pool is out of the running just yet.

“We want to keep our options,” he said. “This process started a few months back ... Just because we’ve got their resumes does not mean they are still interested in us.”

In fact, Iris Jessie, the highest-ranked candidate, had already withdrawn her name from consideration by Tuesday afternoon.

Members of the City Council had different priorities in ranking candidates — experience running a city, evidence of visionary projects, success securing grants, stability, dissatisfaction with the status quo — but their independent choices were closely aligned.

“I was excited that all of us seemed to be on the same page,” Jenkins said, noting there were a few wild cards in their selections. “We all came to a relatively similar conclusion, which I think will make this easier going forward.”

Christian, 51, is currently the chief operations officer and deputy county manager for Onslow County, N.C., for which Jacksonville is the county seat. She previously served as revenue manager, finance director and assistant finance director in Columbus, Ga., and deputy city manager in Bristol, Tenn.

Christian said the character of the community is what first drew her to Anniston. “I like the mix of the old and the new,” she said, “Revitalization and vibrancy and development and how you preserve the core of the community and historical nature...and open it up for new development.”

Anniston, she said, reminds her of Dublin, Ga., the town where she grew up, which added another mark in its favor.

If Christian is selected for the position, it could be historic for the Model City. According to City Clerk Alan Atkinson, a woman has never served as city manager of Anniston.

For Howard, it’s Anniston’s desire to move forward that piqued his interest.

“I’m very interested in organizations that want to go to the next level,” he said of what drew him to Anniston. He said he understands from his research that Anniston is in transition at the moment and undergoing strategic planning to help move the city forward, something he said he’s interested in being a part of.

“Strategic planning doesn’t take the place of management,” he said, “but it increases the chance of getting it right.”

Howard, 41, is the administrator of Camden County, Ga., and has served in a number of administrative positions in Polk County, Fla.

Local government is special, Howard said, because of the opportunity to make an impact for the community.

“At the end of my day,” he said, “my mission is to leave it better than I found it.”

Johnson turned to public administration after stints in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. He currently runs the city of Garden City, Ga., a Savannah suburb of nearly 9,000 people. Attempts to reach Johnson Tuesday were unsuccessful.

Anniston’s close ties to the military are a draw for Larese. A retired Army colonel, Larese spent the last three years of his military career as the garrison commander of Fort Rucker, a job he explains is equivalent to city manager for a military installation where 19,000 people live and work.

Larese, 53, said the opportunity to be in a community associated with the military, including the Anniston Army Depot, is very attractive. He said he feels his background helps him understand how important military-related economic engines are to communities like Anniston and how federal spending cuts are affecting them. After spending about four years in the private sector, Larese said he wants to get back into city management.

“I’m a helicopter pilot,” he said. “I never dreamed running a city could be so much fun, but it was a blast, and I want to get back into that work.”

Smith understands a common theme for local governments lately: “do more with less.” He ran the department of general services for Kansas City, Mo., until last year, when it was consolidated, and he became one of three department heads cut from the budget.

“I’m not frustrated by it,” he said. “It’s a reality of the times we live in.”

Smith noted that it’s a delicate balancing act to efficiently provide services residents are accustomed to at costs the city can afford.

Smith, 51, has served as chief administrator for two Chicago suburbs, the village of Riverdale and the city of North Chicago.

He said he feels his management style would be helpful in Anniston as the city works toward economic development, particularly in the downtown core. While it’s good that the city is pursuing a strategic plan, he said, he believes he can help implement it. “Once we get that plan of action, we don’t want it to sit on shelf,” he said.

Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.

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