Villa Rica may have a new city manager by July, or as soon as next month, according to Mayor Jeff Reese.
The company the city hired to vet applicants for the position is working to narrow the field down to five candidates for the City Council to review and vote upon, Reese said.
“I think we will have a decision if not by the June (council) meeting, definitely by the July meeting,” Reese said.
The city has been in search of a manager since Feb. 16 when the council voted to terminate the employment of David Milliron, who had been the seventh person in a decade to serve in that position.
After receiving more than 40 applications from a nationwide hunt, the council voted in April to hire an executive search firm to help winnow those applicants to a manageable number, so that each could be interviewed by the mayor and council members.
Tom Berry, who with his wife Debra Underwood, owns Underwood & Co., met with the council on May 2 to discuss his selection process, which he said was designed to “get a city manager you can build a relationship with.”
Reese said Berry has been sending council members information about the applicants he has talked with, including telephone interviews. The goal is to narrow the candidates down to five applicants, who will be interviewed in an executive, or closed-to-the-public session.
Afterwards, the council will choose three names, which will then be disclosed to the public in accord with the state Open Meetings law. That will be the first time the public will learn the identities of the top contenders.
The council has been unusually transparent in this new selection process for the person who will run the day-to-day operations of the city. That’s because the process came under a cloud of controversy when an interim city manager, who had been overseeing the selection, was reported to have been pre-screening the applicants.
Reese said that he had been impressed with resumes of the applicants he had seen thus far.
“There’s a mix of people who have a lot of experience in municipal government and some who have very limited,” Reese said. “All of them have different skill sets, and I feel comfortable that any one of them could do the job. It’s going to boil down to what the council sees in the interview, and the way (the candidates) respond to their questions. Obviously there must be a comfort level on the part of the council and the mayor with the person that we’re going to hire.”
He said that the vetted candidates are “sharp,” who view working in Villa Rica as a big step in their professional careers.
“One of them actually said that,” Reese said. “One of them said this would be a challenge to him and that he was looking for a challenge, which made me happy because Villa Rica is growing by leaps and bounds, and we need somebody that’s willing to adjust and grow with us.”
Berry, who is vetting the candidates for the council, is the former city manager for Thomasville, and has served as interim city manager for various towns in Georgia, including Albany, Elberton, Commerce, Camilla, Moultrie and Cairo. In 2016, Underwood was hired to help LaGrange search for its new city manager.
His company is charging the city $1,500 for its service, which includes an extensive background check for each applicant. A more thorough review of finalists, however, will be done at an extra charge ranging from $200-$300. The council will determine which candidates require such a review.
Police Chief David Mansour, who is serving as interim city manager during the search process, has said that a preliminary criminal background check has already been done for most of the candidates.