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Mills River launches search for new manager

MILLS RIVER — The Mills River Town Council expects to spend at least two months in a search for a new town manager to replace Jeff Wells, who starts a job as planning director for the town of Waxhaw, east of Charlotte, next month.

Wells submitted his resignation on Feb. 21, effective April 12.
“I look up to each of the council members, current and past whom I have had the privilege to work with,” he said. “Our advisory boards are second to none in their service to the community … A manager is only as good as his/her staff and Mills River has the best that I have ever had the privilege to work with.”
The town council last week agreed to hire Chapel Hill-based Developmental Associates, a county and municipal executive search consultant, to help recruit and vet candidates and guide the evaluation, interview and selection process. The town is hiring its fourth manager since it incorporated in 2003.
During the council regular meeting on Thursday, consultant Mike Ruffin emphasized that hiring the right person for the best council-manager relationship is more important than other factors.
“You can find degrees and technical qualifications — it’s finding the right fit on the front end” that matters, he said. “You make all the decisions. We bring information to you and then you give us direction on what to do.”
Ruffin, retired as Durham County manager, outlined the process and time frame for the search. After about five weeks, the consultant will present a list of candidates that have applied for or recruited for the job. From those, the council identifies the candidates it wants to know more about.
“We then come back to you with a scored interview, a written summary of written answers, an emotional intelligence assessment that we do,” Ruffin said.
After that, the council will narrow the field to around six candidates to interview in person.
“I’m not going to be involved in who to interview,” he said. “You’ll decide who we interview by telephone, you’ll decide who we bring back to the assessment center.”
Ruffin projected that the council would need three closed sessions to narrow the field and then make a selection.
“The key information I really need from you going forward is what are you willing to pay because that’ll affect who we recruit,” he said.
He predicted the process will take until late April or early May.
“I think it’s safe to say you may not have a manager to really have a dominant role in your budget this year,” he said.
Councilman Roger Snyder praised the firm, which the town has used when it hired Wells four years ago.
“They kept us informed every step of the way,” he said.
Ruffin responded, “We pride ourselves on keeping clients informed.”