Smith, one of two candidates being interviewed this week for the job of city manager, told the council that he wants to work for a community that wants to work for itself, whose members want to contribute to its success.
“Communities that need my support are the communities I want to go to,” Smith told the council members in an interview at the Project Pay building in Zinn Park.
The former director of general services for Kansas City, Mo., and chief administrator in suburban Chicago communities, Smith has more than two decades of experience in local government.
He said city managers must handle the day-to-day operations of the city as well as addressing long-term challenges and maintaining what the city is doing well.
Smith said he toured each of the city’s wards, observing Anniston’s highlights and challenges.
He said he’s seen communities where dysfunction prevents councils from working together to move local governments forward, and he has heard accounts of dysfunction in Anniston’s own government in recent years.
But Smith said later that he has been impressed with the current City Council, a feeling reinforced by meeting them today.
“I still retain that sense that they are genuine in their desires to work together for the betterment of the community and that they can agree to disagree and still work together,” Smith said. “Those are the kind of communities I’m acclimated to work for in this stage of my career, so that I can see the products of my efforts in communities that are going to get their skin in the game by committing themselves to the betterment of the community.”
Smith readily identified one area where Anniston could begin to improve, noting blighted properties in the city, some of which include overgrown grass at sites owned by the city.
“Before you begin to ask your residents to enforce your code, you need to comply with it yourself,” he said. “You have to live by example.”
When it comes to applying that philosophy to his own role in City Hall, Smith noted that he believes in keeping up to date and improving himself through continuing education, of which he completes about 40 hours each year.
“I believe in holding department heads to that same standard,” he told city staff who gathered to meet Smith after his interview with the council.
He said he also expects department heads to take such measures as joining and holding leadership positions in professional associations.
Smith has described his own leadership style as one that promotes team-building and mentoring with city staff. Former Kansas City manager Wayne Cauthen told The Star by phone today that his administration worked that way, with subject-matter experts running their various departments and coming to him with bigger decisions and projects to present it to the city council.
“Gerald was really into that when we were doing that in Kansas City,” he said.
Gordon Criswell is the assistant county administrator in Wyandotte County, which includes Kansas City, Kan. Criswell told The Star that Smith is very good at building a team of city employees and knowing how to best use the skill sets of those around him. But while Smith is big on team-building, Criswell also said, “He’s not at all afraid to step in and take the lead.”
If Smith were to be offered the job, he said, he can probably start within two to three weeks, sometime around the first of September. Current City Manager Don Hoyt is set to retire at the end of this month.
Candidate Brian Johnson — current city manager of Garden City, Ga. — is scheduled for his own tour of the city and meetings with the council, staff and public on Wednesday.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.