Manager selection sprint

One week from now, Chapel Hill may have already hired it's new top executive. The Town Council is literally speeding through the process of selecting a new town manager.

Today the candidates will be touring Chapel Hill, on Tuesday and Wednesday they will be interviewed by the search committee and individual Council members, on Wednesday they will make presentations and tale questions at a public forum at Town Hall. Then on Friday and Saturday the Council has scheduled 12 hours of meetings to decide and make an offer to one lucky white guy. (I just noticed that the Council search committee is all men as well, hmm...)

While there is certainly a big gap to fill in our current manager's shoes, we have two very capable assistant town managers who can easily keep things afloat. I don't see the point of rushing this process just to get someone fully in place before our current manager leaves in September. It seems more important to me do it right than to do it fast.

That said, there's no stopping this moving train, so now is the time to speak out about the candidates or forever hold our peace. In thinking about what an ideal manager would look like, I am hoping for someone who is comfortable with conflict and embraces the messy chaos of democracy. While there are many specific areas that are important to me, such as modern technology and smart land-use planning, I keep coming back to the principles of openness that above all will enable the community's important conversations about specific issues.

Here's some more information about the candidates. Matt Dees wrote a general article about all 3 candidates in the The Chapel Hill News. The Chapel Hill Herald did Q & A's with each candidate, but I can only find 2 of them: Sean Stegall & Roger Stancil. And I'll give the Town some points for putting a lot of information about this on their web site for a change, even if it's not very well organized.



C'mon Ruby. It's a foregone conclusion, a ruse, smoke & mirrors. One guy just got fired from his job, another guy is fairly young & inexperienced and his knowledge of NC is that he has visited the outer banks on vacation. The other guy has experience in a medical school town building a facility similar to Carolina North, getting funding for new public infrastructure, and he started his career in NC, has an NC State degree, his wife is from NC, and his son lives in Raleigh - local ties.

I don't know if Ragan is the best person who applied for the job, but he certainly seems like the best person (on paper) who is being interviewed for the job - by a long-shot.

p.s. Your Roger Stancil link seems to be broken.

Ruby, et al.

I don't know why you insist on calling it a runaway train. Cal announced his retirement on February 15 -- 4 months and four days ago. Does that really seem like a sprint? I don't think it's unreasonable to set a goal of getting a new Town Manager in place within 6 months of the old Manager's retirement announcement.

Also, I can confidently say that the Council will not be making a hiring decision based on expediency. We have some great candidates to consider at this stage of the process, and although I hope that one of them will be our next Town Manager, I can say with all confidence that if there's any doubt at the end of the week that we're not hiring the best person for this job, we will hire no one. You are spot on about the quality of our current Deputy Manager and Assistant Manager. We would be just fine with them at the helm for any length of time if we find ourselves without a replacement for Cal.

While the search committee was made up of 4 men -- Thorpe, Strom, Harrison and Foy -- their work, to pare the applications down to 3 candidates, is over. There will be no committee interviews of the candidates. Now it's up to the full Council to make a hiring decision. Council will meet for more than 30 hours this week on this subject. (In addition, there's a public hearing on tonight's agenda that will cover other topics that will add another 3 hours or so to our meeting schedule this week.)

Let me say in response to Mark's statement:

We have some great candidates to consider at this stage of the process, and although I hope that one of them will be our next Town Manager, I can say with all confidence that if there's any doubt at the end of the week that we're not hiring the best person for this job, we will hire no one.

Frank Ragan looks incredible on paper. He could be exactly what Chapel Hill is looking for right now, I don't really know. But, once again, I find it odd that:
1. All the candidates are white.
2. All the candidates are male.
3. One of the candidates was just fired from his job, with one of the reasons being a sense of secrecy between he and the council.
4. One of the candidates is "fairly" young, and compared to the other candidates, fairly inexperienced. (This guy might be great and could be the next manager for all I know, just saying that in comparison to Ragan...).

Since all of the candidates are white males, that takes diversity out of the picture when the council members choose a manager. So, what is left? Experience and viability. Again, I find it hard to believe that the council would vote for someone who was fired for being too secretive and hard to work with.

Mark, how many PUBLIC meetings did the Council have to take input from the community on what we want in the next manager? I don't see any listed here:

Robert, I don't believe that this final stage is quite such a foregone conclusion. I really can't believe that the selection committee would be so calculating as to waste citizens' and fellow Council members' time all week long to play out the charade of actually making a decision when they had already done it for us. Unless you have some insight about the Selection Committee that we are lacking, I just don't find that accusation very credible.

(I fixed the Stancil link, thanks.)

So far, I'm liking Sean Stegall, and it's not because of his youth but because of his open-mindedness. He seems to be the closest fit for Chapel Hill's values. I don't find Ragan so especially impressive as Robert seems to, it's not like we're hiring the developer of Carolina North - that's UNC's job. And I have to admit Stancil's Fayetteville connection is a turn-off. But I'll admit I don't know that much about any of them (and probably still won't a week from now).

Maybe it's just my own bias in reading the descriptions that you linked to and the newspaper articles about the Fayetteville fiasco. The first thing that popped into my head when I read about Stancil was that the council would never vote to appoint him because of what I read - as I have said over and over I could definitely be wrong.

When I read about Stegall I thought, here is a guy that will really appeal to a few members of the council, but I'm not sure about the rest.

Then, when I read about Ragan I thought, well the town right up of this guy seems to gush with enthusiasm. I guess we'll all know in a couple days who the town council picks, so I won't waste anymore time pondering the selection process. Nor, I doubt, will anyone given the closed process.

I also think Stegall is the type of candidate we need. Problem? There should be more Stegall's in the mix.

I agree with Robert that the Council seems positioned to not take that time - that there's been a bit of a rush. And while I salute Anita's and Tim's efforts, I wonder if the candidate pool might've been different/larger if we'd gone with a search agency that specializes in these type positions.

Mark, I'm glad to hear the Council won't hire based on "expediency" and agree that our remaining management can carry us through. The "real" drop dead date should be this Fall - sometime early enough to start shaping budgetary decision-making. Would you care to comment on what would constitute a "doubt"? Having tried to line up the public comments and the newly published requirements with their C.V.s, Googled-backgrounds, HeraldSun's Q&A's (which, in the HS's continuing effort to diminish their standing as Orange County's paper of record, will soon move behind the paywall), it seems each candidate has some deficiency.

We should take our time and hire a candidate with good people and technology skills. And, for gosh sakes, someone who understands and has implemented flexible management techniques (pushing decision making responsibility down, raising staff voices up, rewarding performance over longevity).

Unfortunately, I'll be out of town during the public hearing phase of the process, so I'll count on Robert, Ruby and the rest of the concerned citizen horde to focus on this key appointment.

The decisions regarding the development of the selection process were all held in open public meetings--I think there were at least two of those--and there was a public meeting to assist on development of a profile.

I'm not going to comment on the merits of any of the candidates, but I appreciate the commentary you and others have contributed regarding the candidates.

I think I was at that meeting "to assist on development of a profile" and it was not advertised nor open to the public. There is a big difference between putting something on your agenda at a public meeting and actively soliciting input.

Unless they pro-actively hold and publicize a "public hearing" or other type forum, I don't think the Council should expect typical constituents to show up or even be thinking much about the many items on the Council's agenda every week.

What's really surprising to me is that this Council, which seems to generally value the deliberative nature of the community (see MLK Blvd, public art, etc.), has set-up this entire process without actively engaging or even encouraging the public's input in a meaningful way (ie: before we were down to a choice between 3 straight, white, males). I'm not saying we should be sitting in on confidential meetings or anything, but it really shouldn't surprise the Council if most Chapel Hill residents don't even know this is going on, and rest of us are annoyed about how it's going.

I'm concerned this is becoming a trend rather than an anomaly...

When the HWCC and Tech boards were dissolved, I pointed out that "it's easier to ignore advice you never get".

Ruby, I also am concerned that a trend is developing....

To start, here's how the newly updated end game will play out (bios of candidates, schedule of events, etc.). I appreciate the town getting that out there "before the fact".

As to the process, I contacted Council members and some of the folks that ended up helping in the selection right after Cal's announcement (2/17). I emphasized my desire then and since that ealy public participation should be actively solicited - that the public wouldn't be "invited in" at the end of the process to review a pre-determined slate of candidates. I also lobbied for extraordinary transparency.

If you look at the process, you can understand why my initial concerns weren't fully allayed.

Timing and timeliness is part of the problem:

Public meetings:

Scheduled at tough times for participants:

Weds. Mar. 15th, 10am
Weds. Mar. 22nd, 10am
Weds. Mar. 29th, 10am
Tues. Apr. 11th, 10am
Tues. Apr. 18th, 8am
Sat. Apr. 22nd, 9am The 1st I could've gone to.
Mon. May 8th 10am
Fri. May 19th, 2pm
Tues. May 30th, 9am

Many of these meetings were put on the schedule "last minute" (minimal notice)
I imagine even Council members (at least those with outside employment), not part of the committee, would have difficulty attending.

We just got access to a schematic list of requirements (edited since I linked to it earlier).
Information on the candidate's is just now bubbling out - the HeraldSun's Q&A is a start but a deeper analysis of each prospective manager by the local media is yet to be done (WCHL? CHN? WCOM?)
This week's meeting have only been on the schedule for a short time.


Minimal discussion of search process vis-a-vis Anita/Tim (great local resources) vs. professional search firm specializing in these type positions.
Minutes, detailed agendas of manager search meetings weren't published on the website - available through the clerk - visit to Townhall required.
No real airing of the requirements culled from Anita's/Tim's interviews.
Selection of "interviewees" was a closed process (culled from the "usual suspects").
Timing and timeliness of "public meetings" made it difficult for even the most interested of folk to participate.

Now, though I'm a bit critical of how we arrived here - the narrow selection we're faced with, I understand it could've been much worse.

Hiring a manager is one of the most difficult (and error prone - if we're to take Durham's example) decisions a Council can make. Nowhere in the ordinances or NC statutes is it required that they integrate public discourse in all but the most minimal of fashions.

So what if Mayor Foy's desire to water down elements I've stressed - a different, more flexible management style - a proven technology background - takes precedence over my or Ruby or any other citizen's desires? He and the other Council members were elected to rule the roost - maybe it's best we get out of the way. It's certainly less messy to dispatch their duty using local talent, a pool of "usual suspects" and an expeditious process rather than to pull in outside rabble ;-)!

That said, folk have this week to review and weigh-in on the selection of the manager. Hopefully. with candidates physically here, WCHL and other media outlets will do some in-depth reviews and interviews (maybe an hour long roundtable with all 3 on WCHL Dan?) so we get a better sense and a higher comfort level with the selection committee's choices.

It's not exactly comme il faut, I know, but I sure hope there's some input from Cal Horton along the way.


That candidate profile was published on 5/8/2006. It has not been modified since then.

The cluster of pages about the Town Manager search were changed, but only to add news release links, candidate bios and any other info as they became available and to consolidate some of the other pages I had originally built onto the main page.

Thanks Bill for the cleanup. I archived a copy w/o the formatting.

Maybe you'll get a chance to post some near realtime content on the search this week so I can keep up.

Did Ragan walk out of the Council meeting this evening?

While we're waiting for an answer (Did Ragan walk out?), I want to address the "three white males" complaint. It would be wrong-headed for the selection committee (a diverse group) to weight their decisions in favor of women and minorities, just as it would if they had purposely narrowed the search to white males.

Diversity is where you find it.

Catherine are you saying you're opposed to affirmative action? Personally I think it is impossible to reverse centuries of discrimination by simply creating a so=called "level playing field."

Also, I didn't realize the candidatse would be at the Council's meeting last night! I thought it was just a regular public hearing on some development proposals.

But anyway, I just wanted to note that I basically agree with Will in that the process is set now. We could do a lot better, and I hope we do next time, but I think we should be focusing now on the getting the best of the three candidates we have before us.

All three are clearly qualified to do the job, so my question is who is best fit for Chapel Hill's unique values and culture, and who is best equipped to make some of the long-overdue changes in our municipal systems. As I've said, I like Stegall's approach, but I'm interested to hear other folks' thoughts.

Will, being a student journalist does occaisionally have its perks, like being able to sit in on a good number of those meetings, especially early in the process.

For the record it was me, the committee and the consultants. The H-S managed to send a reporter to the first meeting, and he may well have gone to others after I got shifted to other meetings/the school year ended.

As to the requirements that were culled via the interview process:
I managed to scratch the surface here when they were presented to the committee, and I also wrote up the meeting you went to Ruby, here

Whoops! How could I omit the (coverage-r-us) Daily Tar Heel?

Sorry about that Ted. I actually have those links bookmarked but blanked on including them in my comments.

Regarding the presence of the candidates at last night's Council public hearings, Kevin specifically made a point when he introduced them which suggested that the hearings were not part of their official itinerary and he didn't ask them to speak at all. Apparently a meeting with Council members (and presumably the candidates) had just broken up and I assume that they asked the candidates if they would like to sit in on the public hearings. If Ragan left early I don't have a problem with that: he might have been tired after a long day or he might have had other plans since it appears that the candidates' presence at the hearings might not have been planned beforehand.

You are correct George. The Council and the candidates had just come out of separate meetings. Presense at the meeting was not a requirement as it was not part of the process. Candidates were asked if they'd like to sit in.

I'm not live blogging this really but I do want to mention that Sean Stegall had a link to on his powerpoint presentation.

Dangit I missed the presentations! But I am at Town Hall now and the candidates are taking questions. I'm going to post live comments over here:

The public access channel will rebroadcast tonight's public forum for town manager candidates on Thursday June 22 at 9 am and 7 pm if anyone missed some or all of tonight's presentation. This according to Catherine Lazorko, Town Information Officer. You can email your thoughts to the Council at


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