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City Council wishes it were still 'Bo time'

When headhunters guiding Hendersonville's search for a new city manager asked City Council members what qualities they wanted in the new city boss, the elected leaders kept mentioning the way Bo Ferguson did the job.

The leadership post in one of the most desirable places to live will attract a pool of more than 100 candidates, the consultants predicted. Yet it was clear that council members wished more than anything that 2013 was still Bo time.
"I think part of it is everybody thought so highly of Bo," Mayor Barbara Volk responded when Stephen Straus asked council members to describe the biggest challenges the new manager would face. "Somebody's have to come in and fill that seat."
Council members described how Ferguson had led the city while maintaining good will and open communications.
The downtown makeover, which tore up streets and sidewalks in front of businesses, raised dust and brought a steady soundtrack of jackhammering, dump trucks and front-end loaders, went as smoothly as it did because Ferguson insisted on communications and accommodating business needs as much as possible, they said.
Communication is key, said Councilman Ron Stephens, "particularly with business people and the press."
The manager has to have good relations with state legislators and with county commissioners and the executives who run county business.
"Walking that line between our government and county government is one that Bo walked very well," Smith said.
Interim City Manager Lee Galloway, a Brevard native who retired last summer as Waynesville's city manager, said growth management is likely to become a greater issue.
"I think Hendersonville is poised for growth more than Waynesville was," he said. "I think more planning issues are going to come into play because of those pressures."
Ferguson was such a thorough communicator with council members that they asked him to devise a priority system tagging his messages by level of urgency. He was committed to communicating with the public, too, they said.
"I think there's an expectation in this city that if you pick up the phone and call the city manager you'll get a call back," Smith said.
Council members said they wanted to give greater weight to local government and to background working in North Carolina so they would know state law and have contacts in the state to help answer questions or get help.
The City Council hired Developmental Associates of Chapel Hill to guide the search for about $19,000. Straus, the company president, and industrial psychologist Heather Lee, both PhDs, held an initial meeting with the council last week so they could draft a job description and learn in more detail what the council wanted in its new manager.
The consultants said they would post the job soon and receive resumes through mid-February.
As part of the recruiting process, the consultants will send an email to a contact list of more than 1,000 government executives throughout the country and also make direct contact "with a number of those that we think would be a particularly good fit with the city of Hendersonville," they said. Through that targeted recruiting, the firm "can supplement the candidate pool with managers with excellent credentials."
The firm will screen the pool of candidates through interviews, Google searches to see what's been written about them in the media, checking their background against the job requirements and skills called for, and administering an Emotional Intelligence Inventory test to gauge how well they'd work with council members, subordinates and townspeople and how well they'd react under stress.
The consultants will score the applicants, narrow the pool, then report back to the council on Feb. 20. The council will trim the pool to around seven finalists who will be invited to Hendersonville for two days of interviewing, role playing and written exercises April 4 and 5.
It's a detailed and involved process. Candidates will complete three exercises Thursday and three more Friday before separate panels made up of other city managers and people from the community.
Assessors, as they're called, will evaluate the candidate in a particular function, presenting a budget for instance, and won't know how the job applicant did in the other five exercises. The assessors also sign a confidentiality agreement that bars them from identifying the job candidates.
The exercises will help the council understand the strengths and weaknesses of each candidate and identify the ones that have the skills to do the job. The consultants said the council would then narrow the pool of finalists to two or three whom the city would invite back for a final interview.