City manager job posting altered

mlucas@thestate.comJanuary 8, 2013 

Columbia’s assistant city manager Teresa Wilson would not have been qualified for the city’s top post if council members had hired based on the original posting for the job that appeared July 2.

In fact, seven weeks into the application process, council members apparently asked the city’s human resources department to revise the posting, to reduce years of required experience and training, and to broaden the listing of previous positions held, director Pamela Benjamin said last week.

“We adjusted the minimum qualifications so that we could attract a larger pool of candidates,” Benjamin said, though she did not know how many applications were received before changes were made.

Wilson, who was offered the city manager’s position during a special-called Dec. 27 meeting, beat out 27 other candidates in a national search conducted in the fall. City Council members, who have been in salary and contract negotiations with Wilson, are expected to take up the matter today.

If hired, Wilson would replace retiring city manager Steve Gantt, who is retiring in June but has agreed to stay and serve in an advisory capacity for at least six months.

The original job posting outlined “a minimum of ten (10) years work experience as a City or County Manager.”

The new language, which Benjamin said was changed Aug. 24, listed the minimum qualifications as “eight (8) years of work experience in a City or County leadership position, including but not limited to city manager, assistant city manager, county administrator, deputy administrator, chief financial officer, director of administrative services, etc.” The application closing date also was extended, to Oct. 31.

It was unclear whether candidates who applied before Aug. 24 were notified of changes to the posting.

Benjamin said the decision to decrease the number of years needed and to broaden the type of experience was made by the entire city council. But when asked for specifics on how that decision was made, Benjamin offered little in the way of insight as to whether council’s decision was handed down in a meeting, through email or other form of communication.

“We had several discussions and I talked to some of them specifically,” she said. “But that was a council decision to change the posting. I was really just kind of facilitating the process.”

Prior to being offered the city manager’s position, Wilson, a Columbia native and University of South Carolina law school graduate, had a total of 18 months experience as an assistant city manager. Before that, she served as the city’s director of governmental affairs and community relations for four years and five months. Many of her duties as governmental affairs director were folded into the new job when she became assistant city manager.

Altogether, Wilson has five years and 11 months of employment with the city.

In addition to working for Columbia, Wilson worked for the University of South Carolina in the Office of the President during President Andrew Sorensen’s tenure. According to her resume, Wilson worked in government and community relations for one year and eight months while at USC, though it is unclear what her title was while employed by the school. Other experience included four years as an English and language arts teacher and stints as a law clerk, including one year working for 5th Circuit Judge L. Casey Manning.

The initial selection for the city manager post was narrowed to a pool of five, which included at least one other in-house candidate, senior assistant city manager Allison Baker. All five were interviewed, Benjamin said. The State newspaper has filed a Freedom of Information Act requesting the resumes as well as the applications of those candidates.

At least two city council members have said publicly they do not believe Wilson has the experience needed to assume the city’s top job regardless of the posting.

Leona Plaugh and Moe Baddourah voted against offering Wilson the city manager’s job at the Dec. 27 meeting and said there were other applicants with stronger resumes. But both declined last week to say specifically what other candidates had in terms of types or length of experience.

Plaugh said at the meeting the city needed “a manager with expertise and experience to advise council, to advise city staff, to advise citizens on critical financial, public safety and water and sewer matters.”

“The candidate before us is indeed a bright, articulate, gifted and talented individual,” she said, “but is inexperienced in many of those areas.”

The job description also stated that candidates should have “considerable experience in dealing with other governmental entities,” something Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin said had given Wilson the edge over in-house finalist, Baker.

But Baddourah said he did not believe that kind of experience was as important as a background in the daily operations of a city, especially in managing a city’s expenses and revenues.

“Her job was to do government relations,” he said. “She did her job well, and I’m not going to take that away from her, but that’s only part of it. Running a city is not just about building relationships with other governments.”

Based on her resume of experience, Eric Budds, deputy executive director for the Municipal Association of South Carolina, says Wilson would not have been qualified to apply for the position as it was originally posted.

But Budds, a former city and county manager with about 20 years of experience in chief administrative positions, said the decision whether Wilson ultimately is qualified rests with city council.

“(That) is a policy decision that council has to make,” he said.

Reach Lucas at (803) 771-8657.

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