Fort Mill interviewing 7 candidates for town manager [Fort Mill Times (Fort Mill, S.C.)]By Michael Harrison, Fort Mill Times (Fort Mill, S.C.)McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Oct. 16--FORT MILL -- Interviews are scheduled this week with candidates for the Fort Mill Town Manager position that will be available Feb. 1.
All of the "finalists," as officials loosely term the seven people culled from more than 70 applicants, were chosen by Town Council in a closed door session during an Aug. 8 public meeting. Council meetings have been called for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, all at 6:30 p.m. Council is expected to vote to go into closed door meetings to conduct the interviews.
The job was posted Aug. 30. After 75 resumes were submitted for the job -- including three that came in after the posting closed -- they were screened by Town Manager David Hudspeth and James McCallister, Fort Mill's human resource specialist. The two, who were assisted by the S.C. Municipal Association, presented Council with a primary list of prospects as well as "a second tier," McCallister said, "in case [Council] wanted to consider additional [applicants]."
Ten women were among the applicants, McCallister said, but the seven now under consideration are all men.
Resumes came in from every region of the U.S., from Georgia to Washington state, though a majority -- 22 -- came from South Carolina. Another six were received from North Carolina, but even more, eight, were sent in by Florida residents. All seven being interviewed this week are from the Carolinas.
"That is an absolute coincidence, but that's the way it worked out," Fort Mill Mayor Danny Funderburk said.
Both Hudspeth and McCallister said they expected more interest, but neither was disappointed in the quality of the resumes the town received.
Although, "I thought we'd have more than that," Hudspeth said, "I think we got some strong finalists."
Hudspeth said the qualities he was looking for included "someone who demonstrates a willingness to stay a number of years and be willing to become involved in the community" and "someone with the experience comparable to dealing with police and fire departments and financial administration."
McCallister said he thinks the economy may have something to do with the town getting fewer applicants than he expected. His theory is that the housing market, in which many homes are not worth the mortgage balance owners owe, could have kept some people from applying.
"Honestly, it's a little less than I expected," he said. "I expected over a hundred."
However, "we had a lot of strong candidates come in at the last minute," McCallister said. "I think we have a really good pool of candidates."
Funderburk, noting Fort Mill's recent selection by "Family Circle" magazine as one of the top 10 communities in the nation said he's happy not only with the quality of the applicants but also the quantity.
"I think we got quite a few," he said.
"Of course, it's a plum job so there are a lot of people interested in Fort Mill," Funderburk said.
"We're starting to develop a regional reputation but maybe we're getting a national reputation now as well."
He said among other criteria, he's looking to hire a town manager "with good people skills."
Six of the seven candidates scheduled to be interviewed this week represent various regions of South Carolina, including one from a neighboring county, and one is from North Carolina in the Charlotte area. One is actually a Fort Mill resident -- current Assistant Town Manager Joe Cronin.
They all have experience in municipal management; some are from cities half the size of Fort Mill while others worked in municipalities that dwarf this town in physical size and population.
Coming from the biggest city on the list is Wayne Bowers, who retired last February after eight years as city manager in Greenville, N.C., population 85,454 to Fort Mill's 10,273, according to the 2010 census. The new operating budget Fort Mill's Town Council passed recently was $16.47 million. The last one Greenville passed under Bower was $101 million.
Before Greenville, he served as city manager of Gainesville, Fla., from 1995 to 2004.
"It's an opportunity to come back to South Carolina," said Bowers, an S.C. native. "It's a growing community with a very high quality of life."
Asked about challenges he sees here, Bowers said, "I look at each job differently, but the fact that it's a growing community and all cities have challenges, especially in the economic times we have today. My first priority would be spending time with council members and getting to know their priorities."
Another candidate from a municipality larger than Fort Mill's is Jeffrey Molinari, assistant city administrator for the City of Goose Creek, a Charleston suburb with a population of nearly 36,000.
One of the youngest candidates, Matthew Delk, 41, is the assistant manager for Union County, N.C., which has 205,463 residents spread out over 640 square miles.
"A key attraction for me is Fort Mill is a wonderful place to live and raise a family," said the married father of two sons who's heavily involved in Boy Scouts of America.
A member of the Army National Guard since 1995 who commanded an engineer firefighting detachment in Iraq in 2004 and an explosive hazard team there in 2010-11, Delk has held CEO positions for Halifax County, N.C. and in his native Bamberg, where Hudspeth preceded him.
Comparing Fort Mill with his hometown of Bamberg, Delk says even though Fort Mill is larger, the similarities are unmistakable.
"That small-town environment and all the good things that come with that, that's heart and soul of the community and the character of the people, that's heart and soul and one of the tricks for planning is maintaining that heart and soul while providing for the needs of today and continuing to grow," he said.
Delk also identified recreation as a potential challenge for Fort Mill.
"A community like Fort Mill needs both active and passive recreation," he said, acknowledging that the town has the latter pretty much covered with the Anne Springs Close Greenway.
He said he would want to stay ahead of the town's "active" recreation needs to prevent a void that could be exploited by sports businesses that create local programs as a vehicle for making money through large scale tournaments.
Another candidate is Beaufort County Deputy County Administrator Bryan Hill, who's been in that position since 2008. On his resume, he listed a dozen key accomplishments, including "overseeing a $375 million budget and more than 800 staff," "completing $180 million in roadway projects" and "instituted a five-year budget model and detailed operational analysis."
On the other end of the municipal spectrum are Nolan Wiggins Jr., the city manager of Abbeville, population 5,000, and Chester City Manager Jeffery Kerr Sr. Chester has 5,570 residents.
Kerr, 50, who has been on the job since 2008, didn't hesitate to point out the difference between his city and Fort Mill.
"Our population actually declined while Fort Mill is one of the fast-growing, if not the fast-growing, cities in the state," he said.
Similarities, he said, include local pride in a good festival. Chester has HILLarity while Fort Mill has been growing its S.C. Strawberry Festival each year since it began in 2010.
"It's things like that you invest in advertising and promote it because it brings people to the community and generates revenue," he said.
One reason he wants the opportunity to succeed Hudspeth, Kerr said, is to help revitalize Fort Mill's downtown area. He pointed to a public project in Chester in which the city and a team of volunteers, armed with a $125,000 grants, renovated a vintage downtown building that is on the verge of becoming a multi-use agri-business-based incubator complete with commercial kitchen and other amenities.
"At the end of the day, hopefully, we'll have a farmer's market for local farmers and say you have a really cool chocolate chip cookie recipe and you want to mass produce it. You can come in and use the facility and who knows? Maybe that's the next Famous Amos."
Kerr also said he would look to encourage "mom and pop" business to open in town rather than welcome big box retailers like Walmart.
Funderburk said he anticipates another round of interviews next week.
To read more on the Fort Mill Town Manager's position becoming vacant, go to fortmilltimes.com/2012/08/15/2145804/fort-mill-town-manager-david-hudspeth.html.
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