Augusta could be closer to having a permanent head of city government, with Mayor Deke Copenhaver calling a meeting Wednesday to “discuss and approve” his recommendation for the top post.
Today marks two weeks since Copenhaver revealed to fellow commissioners and the public his choice of three finalists for the top city job, which has been held on an interim basis since January by Deputy Administrator Tameka Allen. Allen did not apply for the job.
The finalists, selected by Copenhaver with help from a search firm, include Janice Allen Jackson, an Augusta native who served for nine years as Albany, Ga., city manager, then four years as a county manager in Mecklenburg County, N.C., home to Charlotte.
Jackson, who described in an interview with Augusta commissioners the crucial public information role she played in Albany during the devastating 1994 flood, graduated from The College of William and Mary, then earned a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University.
She left Albany after some 12 years in city government after a new mayor took office and city commissioners declined to renew her contract.
Jackson said Tuesday that despite leaving Augusta in the early 1980s, she is familiar with its challenges and prepared to take them on.
“With more than 25 years under my belt, with what I’ve been able to see and learn, I’m very comfortable with working there,” she said.
Finalist Steve Layson served as chief administrative officer for Bibb County, Ga., home of Macon, for nine years until the county consolidated with Macon this year. Layson said he wasn’t surprised when the newly elected Macon-Bibb mayor brought on the former Macon administrator to head the consolidated government.
Layson, a former Putnam County commissioner and private developer, said he has a flair for infrastructure and development projects, has experience serving in leadership roles in emergency management, human resources and information technology and enjoys being engaged in his community through civic and arts groups.
“I think I’ve got more direct experience with a community like Augusta,” Layson said. “I really enjoy infrastructure, building projects and things like that.”
The third finalist, said by several commissioners to be Copenhaver’s top pick for the job, also was a victim of local politics in Taos, N.M.
A graduate of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a 25-year veteran of many local government jobs, Oscar Rodriguez said he and his wife planned to raise their baby in Taos, N.M., until a dramatic turn in local politics left him, a town attorney, an assistant city manager, a human resources director and a planning director without jobs.
Until then, Rodriguez said he’d acted strictly at the direction of the mayor and four-member council, who had him orchestrate an annexation of the town-owned airport and generate revenue for the library and parking. The moves turned into political footballs during elections that saw several members replaced.
“It was a council that wanted to take some strong stands, strongly and unanimously,” he said. But then, “there was a backlash.”
As a result, Rodriguez said he’s ready to put down roots elsewhere, and Augusta, where stability in local government is the norm, is appealing “for someone like me who wants to settle down.”
Commissioner Wayne Guilfoyle, who supports Rodriguez for the job, said he was confident in the search conducted by the Mercer Group and the vetting that saw 72 applicants narrowed to 10, from which Copenhaver and consultant John Maxwell returned with the three, based on qualifications only and not names.
Commissioner Bill Lockett was less certain. He learned at a recent National Association of Counties conference of the caliber of candidates that might be available and said he hoped to have some information about the candidates before sitting down for interviews with them July 9, he said.
While Copenhaver reached out to him Friday, Lockett said he hadn’t heard from the mayor since, while other commissioners such as Grady Smith and Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson are saying they prefer other candidates.
“I think the mayor is going to have a difficult time getting unanimous support,” Lockett said. “It’s going to be lots of discussion; I just hope it’s not heated.”
While Smith said he might be willing to compromise on a candidate, if others are not the commission might not be able to make a decision, Lockett said.
“It’s a possibility that one of the three will be selected, but it’s a greater possibility that none will be selected,” he said. “If they don’t (compromise), we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board.”