Augusta Commission searches for consensus on candidates for city administrator

Wednesday will mark two weeks since Mayor Deke Co­pen­haver revealed the names of three finalists for city administrator, but it remains to be seen how soon Augusta will hire a permanent head of the government.

 

The finalists are Janice Al­len Jackson, an Augusta native, longtime manager of Albany, Ga., and former county manager in Mecklenburg County, N.C.; Harvard-educated Oscar Rod­ri­guez, a former town manager of Taos, N.M., who has held many local government titles over a 30-year career; and Steve Layson, a former Putnam County, Ga., commissioner and private developer who is now assistant county manager for infrastructure in the newly consolidated Macon-Bibb County government.

Copenhaver was trying Friday to build consensus among the 10 commissioners for his pick, Rodri­guez, but “hasn’t spoken with all of them at this point,” said Al Dallas, the mayor’s executive assistant.

Mayor Pro Tem Corey John­son said he was most impressed with Jackson. He said Jackson fit his expectations for having served in a deputy role in a much larger government. Mecklenburg County, home of Charlotte, has 870,000 people.

“She just had some very good ideas, not just ideas but her theories on how to handle things were very good,” Johnson said. “She just seemed to understand the challenges; she was able to give us a good answer to the questions that we posed to her.”

From 2005 to 2009, Jackson was one of four general managers in the Meck­len­burg County manager’s office, overseeing health and safety functions. She also served as interim director of the county social services office for seven months in 2008.

Before that, she served more than nine years as city manager in Albany, population 76,900, after three years as assistant city manager there.

“In the local government profession, people are people and budgets are budgets, and if you have managed an organization, those skills are transferable,” Jackson said.

News reports from Albany give no indication of why, besides a change in administration, the Albany Commission declined to renew her contract in 2004.

Since resigning from the Mecklenburg County position in 2009, Jackson has worked as a consultant for Janice Allen Jackson and Asso­ciates, whose primary client is Cautmica LLC, a commercial painting firm owned by her husband, Joe L. Jackson.

Jackson’s résumé states that during the four years she’s consulted for Cautmica, the firm has experienced a “15-fold increase in revenue.” The firm’s Web site lists institutional work on projects at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and Char­­­lotte Douglas Interna­tional Airport, and in Albany for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Darton College and the Flint RiverQuarium, entities not run by city government.

Commissioner Bill Lock­ett said he expects to vote on a candidate this week, although commission clerk Lena Bonner said Friday that she’d not yet been asked to issue a called meeting request.

“It looks as if we’re going to have a special called meeting on Wednesday to make an announcement about who has been selected,” Lockett said. “The mayor is going to recommend one of the candidates we have interviewed.”

Wednesday will satisfy the amount of time Georgia law requires the public be informed of finalist names since the commission learned who Copenhaver had selected for them to interview.

Lockett said he’d been impressed by the three but wished he could have reviewed “the résumés of more people.”

“I think anything is better than what we had,” he said, comparing the finalists to Rus­sell, whose background was in law enforcement.

Lockett said that while Copen­haver “wants hopefully unanimous approval” for his pick, “I don’t think he’s going to get unanimous consent on any of them.”

Johnson said he doubted the commission will vote on an administrator the day after an election. Johnson is in a heated runoff Tuesday for state Senate against attorney Harold Jones.

Commissioner Marion Wil­liams, who did not attend the interviews of Layson or Rodriguez, said Jackson was “strong” but that he continued to disagree with how the search had been conducted. The commission voted to hire the Mercer Group sight unseen, and Williams said he had hoped to review more of the numerous applicants.

“It’s a trick to fool the general public into having the perception that we’re going to do right,” Williams said.

Rodriguez, who has a master’s degree from the Massa­chusetts Insti­tute of Tech­nology, said despite his short tenure of 20 months in Taos, “I’ve been ready to settle down for quite some time.”

His last two city management gigs were mayoral appointments that he lost when a new mayor was elected.

Rodriguez, for several years an adviser for the Inter­national City/County Manage­ment Association, said he’s “been in this business a long time” and recognized he will come in not knowing everything about how Augusta’s government works.

“I’ve got the skills to move up the learning curve fast,” he said. “That’s how I would approach it.”

Johnson said Rodriguez’ “tenure on his previous jobs is short-lived,” though he would “probably come here and shake things up a little bit.”

Commissioner Wayne Guil­foyle said he supports hiring Rodriguez.

“I want him to come in and do his job, be efficient to where we are actually running like a machine,” Guilfoyle said. Where there are management weaknesses, Guilfoyle said Rodriguez will “coach them to where they become effective.”

Behind Rodriguez, Guil­foyle said his second choice was Layson, who did not return calls for comment.

Commissioner Grady Smith said Layson “sounds like the type of guy I would like to do business with.”

Layson is “a guy that wants to come here and be a part of this team and make it last for a while,” Smith said.

If Layson didn’t get six votes, however, Smith said he is willing to consider another candidate.

“If my top choice isn’t everybody else’s top choice, let’s see how close we can get on the agreement table and move forward,” he said.

Smith said Layson had experience with sales tax referendums and other issues similar to those Augusta faces.

Commissioner Mary Davis said she wanted the commission and mayor to discuss “as a group who we each feel would be the best choice and go from there. I don’t want us to vote until we have a strong consensus.”

Should Augusta not hire an administrator before the end of the year, that’s OK with Mayor-elect Hardie Davis, who said he’s had no involvement in the search.

“To date, I still have not seen anything,” he said. “I haven’t spoken to any of the candidates, I haven’t talked to any of the commissioners about the candidates” and “I have not talked to the mayor about any of the candidates.”

Davis said he continues to believe that interim Admin­is­trator Tameka Allen and inte­rim Deputy Administrator Steve Cassell can keep city government rolling until the best candidate was found, but that he’ll work with “the government that’s given to us on Jan. 1, 2014.”

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