October 25, 2012
The only publicly visible evidence of the search for a new Guilford County manager is that, on Thursday, Oct. 18, the county posted a survey on the front page of the county's website so residents could offer input on the qualities, background and skills they would like to see in the next county manager.
While there might not be a lot of public movement on the search, behind closed doors quite a bit of intriguing activity has been taking place. For one thing, the commissioners have been meeting with representatives of the Richmond office of Springsted Inc., the search firm hired by the county to find the next manager.
The only clue so far that something is going on behind the scenes was a moment that occurred at the Thursday, Oct. 4 Guilford County Board of Commissioners meeting. That night, after a closed session, when the commissioners returned to their seats at the dais in their meeting room in the Old Guilford County Court House, County Attorney Mark Payne told the commissioners they should take note of the envelopes marked "Confidential" that had been placed in their chairs.
Payne added that the contents pertained to the manager search, but he gave no details and no one has ever said anything else about the mysterious, commissioners'-eyes-only documents since.
Those envelopes contained the results of private interviews the search firm conducted with the commissioners.
The head-hunting firm had extensive conversations with the Guilford County commissioners, and, in those interviews, commissioners talked individually with search firm representatives about a wide-range of topics – including the salary of the next county manager, the process by which he or she would be chosen, and the desired training, education and character of the next county manager.
Some concerns that commissioners brought up in the discussions seem to be a reaction to issues they have with current Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones Fox, who's retiring on Feb. 1, 2013.
The final decision on a new manager is likely to be made early next year by the smaller nine-member Board of Commissioners. Newly elected members will be sworn in on Monday, Dec. 3.
The report from John A. Anzivino, a senior vice president of the firm, included a compilation of the interviews with 10 of the 11 current commissioners. (Commissioner Mike Winstead wasn't interviewed because he was out of town on business during the two days those interviews took place.)
The report, titled "County Manager Selection Process: Profile Development Process," contains the commissioners' responses to an extensive set of questions. However, it doesn't identify which commissioner gave which response.
One interesting revelation in the report is that the search firm already has some candidates in mind.
Anzivino wrote, "I have spoken to several individuals who may have an interest in the Manager's position and will be attending the International City/County Management Association meeting beginning on Saturday and will be identifying and speaking with potential candidates to gauge their general interest in serving the County."
That four-day convention, held in Phoenix, began on Saturday, Oct. 7 and drew over 3,000 attendees.
The report from the search firm stated that, based on the interviews with commissioners, the next Guilford County manager can expect a salary of between $150,000 and $180,000 a year. Fox currently makes $183,200 a year.
Greensboro City Manager Denise Turner Roth makes about $165,000 a year and she oversees more than 3,000 employees. Guilford County has about 2,300 employees but the manager only oversees about two-thirds of those. The rest work under elected officials such as the sheriff, the register or deeds, or the commissioners, or they work for a department run by a board, such as the Guilford County Department of Public Health.
Also, unlike in Guilford County manager searches in the past, this time some handpicked area business and community leaders will likely play a role in the selection process.
The search report from Springsted states: "We would suggest that the Board identify up to ten (10) business leaders whom we would interview on a one-on-one basis to obtain information from, similar to that obtained from Board members. Information obtained would be reported to the Board and folded into the profile as well."
It is not clear whether editors of weekly newspapers qualify to be in the potential pool of business leaders.
The commissioners also expressed an interest in getting input from county employees and from the community at large, which is one reason the survey is now posted online. In the discussion with the search firm, commissioners asked that the survey be made available in some form to citizens who don't have internet access. However, the clerk to the board's office said the survey is only available online.
In addition to the survey, the report said one commissioner requested that "citizen participation should be obtained during the interview and selection of finalists through a public meeting with the candidates." Usually, when that's done, there's a reception with refreshments held in a county building, and the citizens come out and meet the candidates and then convey their impressions to the commissioners.
Not surprisingly, in the private interviews, many of the responses from commissioners indicated they would like to see a big change in the status quo of Guilford County management. The responses to the firm's questions made it clear that the last thing the commissioners want is another manager constantly embroiled in controversy, or one who's likely to continue damaging the county's relationships with local governments and businesses that have historically been excellent partners.
Fox has been the subject of ongoing and vast criticism for over two years, and she has also been the subject of two investigations – one by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and another by the Internal Revenue Service. Fox's four-year reign as manager has also to a large extent wrecked relations with the City of Greensboro and led to the dissolution of, or to the near end of, several agreements with Greensboro and others that date back many years. Fox has also alienated many county employees as well as Moses Cone Health System officials.
Because of all the scandals and contentiousness over the last two years, several commissioners have said it would be hard in the new search to find a worse county manager. Three months ago, Commissioner Paul Gibson said one could simply go into an airport and "pick the first 200 people" and all of those people would likely be a better county manager than Fox.
It's evident in the search company's interview that the commissioners want a manager drastically different than Fox. The board is specifically asking for a manager who'll work with the entire board openly and fairly, keep the commissioners fully informed and nurture the important relationships that Guilford County hopes to maintain....continued on page 2