BY DEBBIE PAGE
Interim Town Manager Jim Freeman is helping Troutman Town Council members create a rigorous and thorough process to select the applicant best suited to serve as the permanent town manager.
Freeman, a retired town manager with a planning and community development background, resigned from the town’s Planning and Zoning Board to take the interim position. He has decades of experience in city government, serving as town manager in Elizabethtown from 1980 to 2000 and as city manager in Roxboro from 2000 to 2004 and in Havelock from 2005 until his retirement in 2013.
Town Council members began discussions with Freeman on hiring a new manager in mid-October at a special meeting following the resignation of Justin Longinio. Freeman noted the town is going through “exciting times” with the appointment of both a new police chief and town manager, the two most important positions in local government.
The State of North Carolina has no statutes to direct the process of hiring a town manager since the position serves at the pleasure of the council and is tied to no personnel policies. “They work for you,” Freeman told the council.
Freeman discussed the benefits and challenges of outsourcing the selection process, which is more costly and gives council members less control, and doing it in-house, which is time-consuming and work intensive but less expensive.
“You’ve got to feel comfortable if you are able to handle this. If you handle it internally, I think it helps the rest of the board to have an ad hoc committee do the leg work and come back to you,” Freeman told the council.
Mayor Teross Young expressed his desire to manage the undertaking in-house with the help of the Centralina Council of Government on some aspects. Council members favored this type of hybrid process, using CCOG for advertising the positions or perhaps culling through applications to streamline the process.
“That way we are making the big decisions but still not having to do a lot of the leg work,” said Councilwoman Jan Huffman, who noted that most of the CCOG services are available free of charge through the town’s membership in the organization.
Councilman Paul Henkel suggested that Freeman could narrow the field to five to six candidates that the ad hoc committee could interview with the council interviewing the final two to three candidates.
Freeman was agreeable to that suggestion.
Huffman said that CCOG could help council members decide what they are looking for, design an ad for the position, screen applications, and send those that match the criteria on to the town to compress the process since Freeman is working limited hours and has town management responsibilities to fulfill as well.
Freeman gave council members some timelines to consider from other towns that he helped through the process, suggesting that they could use them as a guide and develop one suited to their needs.
He also noted that council members need to do a general background check on the final five to 10 candidates and then a detailed check on the final two candidates.
Freeman suggested that two council members, the mayor, Town Clerk Kim Davis, and himself be on the ad hoc committee.
This committee would identify tasks that need to be done and create drafts of things like timelines, soliciting input, and determining the qualities desired in the town manager position. This work would then be shared with the whole council for feedback and tweaking.
Any new council members elected in November would also have an opportunity to give their views in December when they join the board, which would be before the interview process begins, added Henkel, who favored getting the ball rolling immediately on what could be on six-month process.
Huffman added that developing interview questions to hone in on a candidate’s skills, approach to personnel, networking abilities, and other important qualities was tedious work as well.
Councilwoman Sally Williams noted that CCOG has an assessment center that puts candidates through simulated situations to see how they react, which Huffman agreed would be valuable to help the council evaluate applicants.
Council members voted unanimously to appoint Young, Huffman and Henkel to the ad hoc committee, along with Freeman and Davis.