Mayor Deke Copenhaver will take an active role in selecting Augusta’s new administrator, with input from mayor-elect Hardie Davis in a process nearing its end, the mayor confirmed Wednesday.
In a Wednesday e-mail to Augusta commissioners, Human Resources Director Tanika Bryant said she recently learned the Augusta code assigns to the mayor, not the mayor and commission, the task of presenting as many as three finalists for the administrator job, along with his pick, to the commission for approval.
According to an adjusted schedule of the search process included in the e-mail, the code section attached, that means Copenhaver will meet with John Maxwell, senior vice president for the executive search firm The Mercer Group, on Friday to discuss 10 finalists culled from Mercer’s database of viable candidates.
Copenhaver said the next administrator “should be a strong leader who works very well with our next mayor” and that he’ll seek input on the choice from Davis because “a strong working relationship between the city administrator and the mayor is an absolute must as the city moves forward at this critical juncture.”
In an interview last week Davis, a state senator who takes office in January, said he hoped the governing body would wait until he took office to make the choice.
The consolidated government has been without a permanent administrator since the commission fired longtime administrator Fred Russell in December. Since then, the commission appointed deputy administrator Tameka Allen as interim administrator, with Copenhaver as a backup when Allen was absent, and Traffic Engineer Steve Cassell as interim deputy administrator.
Maxwell said the firm compares “a large database” of job-seekers with the city’s criteria for the position, but wouldn’t describe the level of response the opening had garnered.
“I don’t feel comfortable divulging that here,” he said. “We’re pleased with the response that we received.”
The firm, which handled the 2011 Sarasota County, Fla., search for a manager that included Russell as a finalist, values confidentiality.
“It’s very important to us, because we promised confidentiality to the extent under Georgia law,” Maxwell said.
Georgia open records laws, revised in 2012, require the government at a minimum to release names and associated documents for as many as three finalists for executive positions prior to a final vote.
Mercer’s brochure for the vacancy, available on its Web site, includes images of the Augusta Canal, Augusta National Golf Club and other local landmarks. It requests a candidate with a master’s degree in business or public administration or a related field, along with extensive experience in local government administration.
After Copenhaver presents his recommendation, interviews will be scheduled with the top candidates around the week of June 15, with a goal of having an administrator in place by Aug. 1, according to Bryant.
Commissioner Donnie Smith said he didn’t think Copenhaver’s involvement would change the outcome.
“I’m sure we’ll talk about it at the retreat in June,” Smith said of the search process.
Commissioner Joe Jackson said he “would like to be a part of that process of picking one this year” before his term ends.
Commissioner Bill Lockett said he hoped to have a new administrator in place this year.
“We don’t need to have a brand new administrator and brand new mayor come in at the same time,” Lockett said.
Lockett said partisan divide on the commission – between Democrats and Republicans – sometimes gives rise to public arguments that might discourage an applicant.
“We’re looking, at least from my perspective, at the whole person,” he said. “We don’t need a politician as much as an administrator.”
Lockett said the government had been running better under Allen and Cassell than it did under Russell and he wouldn’t object to hiring them permanently if the search produced no suitable candidate.
“You always need to have alternatives, you need to have a backup plan,” he said.
The Mercer Group will repeat the $15,000 search for only the cost of expenses if it produces no successful hire, Maxwell said at a February meeting.
Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, who also leaves office this year, said Wednesday he expected the commission to narrow the slate of finalists, but hoped to have a permanent, new administrator in place by September.
“Let’s be real; they’re going to have to go through a learning curve,” Johnson said. “We can’t wait.”