Sunday, October 25, 2015

Davidson's national search ends in local choice for new Town Manager.

A week after the Town of Davidson announced its choice for its new town manager, a few more details have started to trickle out.

It has been previously reported that 71 applicants were received from over 25 states.  From speaking with multiple people familiar with the overall process, here's what occurred after the net was cast wide.

The Waters and Company Executive Recruitment firm cut the list to 10-12 resumes for detailed review.  Eventually a short list of 3 was chosen for the in-depth interview process.  Interestingly, 2 of the final 3 ended up being local candidates.  The town would not confirm these numbers or if there was any sort of weighting that favored local candidates - saying that was not public information. Regardless, the end result of a national search was a decidedly local flavor.

Those final three were engaged for interviews with staff, a citizens panel, as well as lengthy interviews with the elected officials.

The background information provided to candidates included these high-priority areas of focus for the town:
  • Building upon strong working relationships with Davidson College, Mecklenburg County, and other regional partners.
  • Continuing to monitor Mi-Connection as it moves toward financial independence.
  • Working with the Board, advisory bodies, and the community to maintain to maintain Davidson's small town character while enhancing its connectivity and economic development opportunities.
  • The Town is also challenged by increasing development pressure.  To maintain Davidson's character and small town feel, the new Manager will be charged to work on issues such as preservation of open space, transportation and traffic issues as well as affordability and diversity of housing.

Ultimately, that months-long process resulted in the selection of Jamie Justice, Assistant Town Manager in Matthews and resident of Mooresville.

The Matthews press release had the following kind words for Justice.

“The Town has been fortunate to have Jamie on staff, with his years of experience and passion to see the Town succeed”, says Town Manager Hazen Blodgett. “While we are saddened by this news, we are happy for Jamie and his family at this new opportunity. We wish him the best for the future.”

Matthews Mayor Jim Taylor agrees. “I’m exceptionally proud of Jamie and his accomplishments over the last seven years. Matthews is a better place because of him and his work. I’ve spoken with Mayor Woods and share his excitement for the Town of Davidson. Jamie will do an excellent job there. It’s a loss for Matthews but I’m happy for both Jamie and the Town of Davidson."

Additionally, in speaking with one person familiar with Matthews town hall operations, this source had nothing but favorable things to say about how the town runs and town manager Blodgett.  After working under Blodgett for years, Justice's experience should be very valuable in knowing how a well run town should operate.

But Justice's road to Davidson has not been all roses.  Prior to his work at Matthews, Justice spent a rocky few years as town manager in Mooresville.

When justice came on board in 2005, Mooresville town hall was embroiled in a controversy over the handling a contract to expand the town's water system.  Reports indicate significant conflict between staff and the Board.  A year after arriving, Justice let go two town staffers.  Two years after that in 2008, he himself was asked to resign by the newly elected Mooresville Board.  Along the way he was also the town manager as Mooresville and Davidson inked the deal to form Mi-Connection in 2007.

It may be Justices's involvement in the formation of a Mi-Connection that could raise a few eyebrows in Davidson.  Considering how that decision went locally, that's an understandable concern.

Based on input from multiple people, it appears Justice played more the role of the unbiased arbiter of information to the Board in Mooresville.  That's the role one would actually expect from a Town Manager rather than being an advocate.   One possible validation of that would be to look at the votes in both towns when Mi-Connection was formed.  Mooresville voted 4-3 with Mayor Bill Thunberg casting the tie-breaker.  Davidson voted unanimously to form the company.

However, Justice's experience with controversial situations could come in handy in his new position.  He arrives in Davidson amid rising citizen concern with the Downtown Catalyst Project.  The I77 HOT lanes is always a potential flash point.  Justice will also be only the second town manager in the town's history - a situation that certainly will bring its own challenges.

Plus, Davidson is...well, Davidson.

Here's to wishing Mr Justice good luck.  He is likely to need more than a little of it.

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