The East Ridge City Council will conduct its final round of interviews for the vacant City Manager post this afternoon and could potentially hire someone later Saturday evening.
On Friday evening the Council interviewed William Watson, J. Scott Miller and Amanda Miller. Mayor Brent Lambert explained to those gathered that each council member would ask a question and there would be four rounds of questions to the candidates. Lambert said in an effort to compare “apples to apples,” the same questions would be asked of each candidate. He said questions of a personal nature _ one’s religion, marital status, drinking habits _ were off limits.
Watson, who works in finance for the Rhea County school system, told the council that his management style is that of a coach and his door is always open for employees. He has no “direct knowledge” of the Border Region Act, but it was something he could learn. “It’s a matter of investigating and finding out its procedures.”
Asked how he would handle a situation where a councilman came to him and asked him to fire an employee, Watson said he would have to find out details behind the complaint. He would have to know the grounds for the councilman’s complaint. “I certainly would do nothing immediately.”
When asked about his experience in recruiting new business to his city, Watson said he had worked with Rhea County officials to promote successful fishing tournaments in the county, which has pumped money into its economy.
He said his biggest professional achievement was raising the Rhea County schools fund balance from virtually nothing to where it’s now “good and solid.” He also said he was challenged by the county building a $33 million high school in 2012.
Watson said he wanted the East Ridge job because he grew up in the Lakeview/Fort-Oglethorpe area and that the city “intrigued” him. He said East Ridge has much to offer in terms of its recreation and that Bass Pro Shops construction was “an eye opener.”
Watson said he currently manages a total budget of $55 million in Rhea County. He said he had looked at East Ridge’s budget. “It’s all relative,” Watson said. “They all work the same way.”
J. Scott Miller was the City Manager of Leavenworth, Kansas for eight years and most recently served as CM in College Park, Georgia. After 40 years in government, he recently retired to Waynesboro, North Carolina, only to discover retirement was not for him.
When asked about his management style, Miller said he doesn’t micro-manage. He said his three tenets of management are “team work, responsiveness and communication.” He called that a “three-legged stool.” “If you’re missing one of the legs it will collapse.”
He’s got an open-door policy for the council, employees and citizens. “My door is always open,” he said. “That’s part of the job I miss. I’m a people person.”
Miller said that when he was in Kansas, it had a similar program to the Border Region Act. In terms of his experience with economic development, Miller said that he and others worked for years to get the federal government per diem raised in Kansas, which encouraged federal employees visiting the penitentiary and military base in Leavenworth to stay there instead of 12 miles away across the border in Missouri.
Miller said the change in law resulted in the construction of motels, in particular a Fairfield Glade Suites that is the top performing one in the country.
When asked what he would do if he were given a directive by a councilman to fire an employee, Watson said, “I wouldn’t do it.” Watson said he had encountered this situation in his career. He said he would discuss and find out the reason for the request.
“This is the key,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to trust me and I’ve got to learn to trust you. When you don’t have that, that’s where problems begin.”
Miller said his College Park, Ga. budget was $83 million. He said there was an additional $63 million in a utility budget he was ultimately responsible for.
Asked what he brings to the table that others don’t, Miller pointed to his experience in economic development and handling budgets. He said the millage rate in Leavenworth remained the same for the eight years he had the job and that property taxes were reduced by 40 percent. He said he reduced payroll costs by $1.5 million by not replacing employees who retire or move on.
He said he knows organizations. “It’s hard for department heads to ‘snow’ me,” Watson said. “I’m wise to that. I’ve been through all that.”
The final candidate interviewed was Amanda Miller, a long-time city employee, who held the title of Administrative Assistant to former Director of City Services Freida Wheeler.
Ms. Miller said her management style would be that of a coach. “I want to make sure that everyone succeeds,” she said. “Hopefully, I would lead by example.”
Asked about her experience in recruiting businesses to the city, Ms. Miller said she helped the city become familiar with the Border Region Act and she assisted in the establishment of the city’s Industrial Development Board. She said she had no direct experience in recruiting businesses per say, “but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn.”
Ms. Miller said she would advocate the establishment of an economic development board and tap into resources of East Ridge’s business leaders and residents.
When asked about her biggest professional achievement, Ms. Miller pointed to her having overseen the city’s acquisition of numerous grants. She told the council that she has never held a position where she could hire or fire people, but that she did sit in on interviews that Wheeler conducted.
Ms. Miller said that if she were directed by a council member to fire an employee she would need to talk to the employee and see what the issue is.
“As far as a directive (from a councilman), I wouldn’t be allowed to do that,” she said.
Ms. Miller said she applied for the City Manager job because of her experience in having worked in various capacities for the City of East Ridge.
“In the past, I’ve been through several city managers,” Ms. Miller said. “I want to see for myself if I’ve got what it takes.
“If I’m the City Manager this would be my home,” she added. “I’m not going anywhere else.”
At the end of the interviews, Mayor Lambert said that James Ayers and Robert Rokovitz, who were among the six finalists, have removed their names for consideration. The only person to be interviewed on Saturday will be Mark Kutney. That interview is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Lambert said the council will then meet at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the interviews and possibly take action on hiring one of the candidates.