Transitions: Fort Worth, TX; Washington County, MN; Winchester, MA and more

Fort Worth, Texas (population 741,206): By his own admission, Tom Higgins likes to stay in the background. For most of his 24 years with the city, he was the economic development director, working behind the scenes to bring companies and jobs to Fort Worth. As interim city manager for 10 months, Higgins lost his much-beloved anonymity, and the spotlight is expected to get brighter after the City Council’s decision last week to remove the “interim” tag from his job. Though Councilman Danny Scarth talked of Higgins having the “complete and full confidence” of the council, Higgins, 68, who will be paid $233,393.06, knows that Mayor Betsy Price has already said the city will start a national search next year. From wrestling with the city’s pension program to tackling long-delayed work on streets, then finding more funding once the current street backlog is eliminated, Higgins clearly has a lot on his plate. What’s more, he wants to see city employees embrace a culture change to provide more customer service to residents — one of the themes of Price’s mayoral campaign. Council members praised Higgins’ handling of a budget this year that included a 3 percent raise for general employees and no layoffs. But Higgins warns that next year’s budget could be far more difficult. The sluggish real estate market is one cause for pessimism, and Higgins said he expects property values to stay flat, at best. City staff members have begun looking at where to hold the line on expenses to prepare for another shortfall. Long-term projections show the city facing shortfalls in each of the next five years. Just because something is in the budget, he notes, that doesn’t guarantee that the money will be spent. Despite coming close to retiring three years ago, Higgins doesn’t sound ready to quit just yet. A noted early riser, Higgins is often in the office well before dawn poring over documents and getting work done before the phone calls and meetings begin. He keeps a notepad by his bed to jot down ideas and sometimes sits on his patio in the middle of the night deciding what the next move should be. He joined Fort Worth in 1987 as the one-man Department of Economic Development, helping to land the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing facility and luring companies to the now-booming Alliance Corridor just as it got off the ground. Making those deals work, outmaneuvering other cities, was all part of the excitement that fueled the competitive fire, Higgins said. And he still gets satisfaction driving by businesses or hotels that have brought jobs and visitors to the area. That experience should serve Higgins well as city manager, said Mike Berry, president of Hillwood Properties, which developed Alliance and worked with Higgins on many of those deals. Berry said Higgins’ attention to detail, calm demeanor and institutional memory will be assets for the city. But Berry said time hasn’t passed Higgins by. He can see the big picture and is good at finding new ideas for seemingly intractable problems, Berry said, mentioning that he was in Higgins’ office last week, talking about finding a solution to the perpetually clogged Interstate 35W. Read more at the Star-Telegram.

Washington County, Minnesota (population 238,136): Longtime Washington County Administrator Jim Schug announced Thursday he will retire early next year after 25 years with the county. Named county administrator in 1994, Schug began his quarter-century with Washington County as the director of the county’s Community Services Department. He has worked in county government for more than 37 years in Crow Wing, Redwood and Washington counties, beginning his career as a social worker. Schug, who lives in Stillwater, announced his plan to retire in late January in an email to employees on Thursday. He had previously informed Washington County’s five commissioners, according to a county news release. Schug’s 2011 salary is $150,065. A timeline for finding Schug’s successor was not made immediately clear on Thursday. Commissioner Autumn Lehrke, who represents south Washington County, in an interview Thursday praised Schug as “great to work with” during her 10 months on the board and said “his knowledge base will be greatly missed.” County Board Chairman Gary Kriesel, a commissioner for seven years, said he has witnessed Schug’s skills as a leader. Schug respects the employees and is a positive motivator, he said. Kriesel said the five commissioners will discuss soon the process to replace Schug. Kriesel said his “expectation” is that it would be an internal search. Lehrke agreed. Even those who don’t follow county government closely should appreciate Schug’s contributions, Kriesel said. Over the years Schug has made recommendations to the County Board that led to the county’s solid financial standing and its successful delivery of a wide range of services. Surveys have shown residents are satisfied with county government, Kriesel said. Read more at the Woodbury Bulletin.

Winchester, Massachusetts (population 21,374): The Winchester Board of Selectmen Thursday night unanimously selected Richard Howard, outgoing Malden mayor, as its new town manager, the board said in a statement. Howard was among four finalists for the position, and beat out officials from Saugus and Belmont, a list narrowed from 54 original applicants. In November, Howard announced he would not seek a fifth term in office in Malden. Also a lawyer who served business-oriented clients before his time in electoral politics, Howard had said he would explore non-elected public life or return to law. His departure marks the end of an era in Malden, where Howard has served as mayor since 1996, and a bump in pay. Winchester advertised compensation up to $160,000. Howard earned $114,400 as Malden mayor in 2008, the latest figures available. The other finalists for the job were Saugus town manager Andrew R. Bisignani and Belmont town administrator Thomas G. Younger. Swampscott town administrator Andrew W. Maylor was a finalist before accepting the town manager job in North Andover. In a phone interview, Howard said he would likely take the helm in Winchester in early January, after the new mayor of Malden is sworn in Jan. 2. Currently he and Winchester officials are negotiating the terms of his employment there, he said, including salary, benefits, and other standard contractual items. The transition will require some adjustment, Howard said, but was quick to compare the communities. While Winchester is less than half the size of Malden — at just over 21,000 — Howard said both communities share a desire for transit-oriented development, and more specifically, the remodeling of their high schools. This year, workers are completing a $70 million renovation of Malden High School, the last segment in Howard’s career-long effort to remake and rebuild the Malden Public Schools. Some of the key differences between the communities fall squarely along the population trend. The Winchester town budget is roughly half of what the Malden city government spends in a year. The political structure is also wholly different, and will mark Howard’s first step outside of an elected position. The transition means less hours during evenings and weekends filling the ceremonious duties of a mayor of a medium-sized city, Howard said — duties that he will come to miss, he said. Read more at the Boston Globe.

Cocoa, Florida (population 17,140): Deputy City Manager Brenda Fettrow last month became acting city manager and will become Cocoa’s first female city manager when her contract is finalized in the coming weeks. Fettrow replaces Ric Holt, who was the city’s longest-serving city manager, holding the job since 2000. The Cocoa City Council last month accepted his retirement offer. Fettrow was deputy city manager since 2008. She previously worked for 20 years at Brevard Community College, most recently as vice president of student services and interim executive director of the BCC Foundation. Before that, she was president of BCC’s Cocoa campus. Read more at Florida Today.

Clearlake, California (population 15,250): Clearlake’s new interim city administrator received a warm welcome at her first council meeting on Thursday evening. Joan Phillipe started work on Oct. 24. The council voted to hire Phillipe on an interim basis at its Sept. 22 meeting, as Lake County News has reported. Most recently she worked as interim general manager for the Foresthill Public Utility District in Placer County, and also previously served as city manager in Colusa, Colfax and Loomis. Her interim contract is for six months, after which the council could decide to hire Phillip in a long-term capacity. She has reportedly expressed interest in taking the job permanently. During public comment, Supervisor Rob Brown appeared at the podium with a large gift basket filled with a number of items including freshly baked bread, local produce and wine, gift certificates and tickets for local school sporting events, which he offered Phillipe as a welcome gift. Phillipe told the council later in the meeting that she anticipates “a very positive future” working with the city. Council member Judy Thein thanked Bob Galusha, the city’s engineer, who has acted as interim city manager for several months as the hiring process was taking place. Thein said Galusha won’t have to do double duty in the future. Mayor Joyce Overton said a meet and greet to introduce the community to Phillipe will take place on Nov. 10. Read more at Lake County News.

Lake Wales, Florida (population 14,225): It’s been a while since Lake Wales had a new city manager who was also new to the area. That’s why city of Lake Wales and the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce – in partnership with several local businesses – will host a reception for Therese Leary from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Nov. 3, in the lobby of Lake Wales City Hall at 201 W. Central Ave. Leary of Hilton Head, S.C., was one of two candidates selected for interviews for the post to succeed City Manager Judy Delmar, who announced last year that she would be retiring. When R. Dale Brown of Palestine, Texas, withdrew his application in late August after difficulties with a Skype.com interview and concerns of professionalism among the commissioners, the Lake Wales City Commission voted unanimously to offer the job to Leary. She accepted the job in early September and the City Commission approved her contract on Sept. 7. Her first City Commission meeting will be next Tuesday. City Commissioner Betty Wojcik – who is executive director of the chamber – approached Delmar about planning a reception for Leary and covering the costs with a partnership between the city and chamber. Local businesses such as Center State Bank, Florida’s Natural Growers and Lake Wales Main Street will sponsor the reception. Wojcik said they chose 4:30 p.m. to give people a chance to drop by and still take part in or attend the Lake Wales Literacy Council’s Spelling Circus or the Florida’s Natural Foundation awards, both scheduled for that night. Leary served as general manager for Indigo Run Community Owner’s Association in Hilton Head, N.C. She also served as city manager for Lake Park and Crystal River in Florida, as well as for cities in Connecticut, South Carolina, and Vermont. She hold a master’s degree in management and organizational development from Antioch University in Keen, N.H., and has studied with the New York University business law program. In her interview, Leary said she planned to move to Florida whether or not she got hired by Lake Wales. She described herself as a “consensus-builder” who would seek a team-oriented approach to both city management and public and private partnerships for economic development and recreation. Read more at News Chief.

Harrisburg, North Carolina (population 11,526): The Harrisburg Town Council voted Oct. 24 not to renew the town administrator’s contract and removed her from all town duties immediately. Five of the seven council members were present for the vote Oct. 24 at a regular town meeting. Jeffrey Redfern and Jeff Phillips were absent. The others unanimously approved the decision to put Michele Reapsmith on administrative leave with pay until Nov. 30, when her contract ends. Reapsmith was hired finance director in 2009 and was appointed town administrator in 2010. She said her departure was a mutually beneficial decision. Council member Bill Williams said he had always good relationship with Reapsmith, but he voted in favor of the decision. Williams said the council was “looking into some things,” but he wouldn’t comment further. A special meeting “to discuss personnel matters” in closed session is scheduled for 9 a.m. Oct. 29, he said. The council could vote to take action on the matter, but any voting is likely to take place publicly, after the closed session. Harrisburg voters will elect four council members Nov. 8. Read more at the Charlotte Observer.

Wilcox County, Georgia (population 9,255): Tommy Higgs who was hired in June by Wilcox County Commissioners as county manager has tendered his resignation, effective immediately. Higgs said he cannot support some provisions of a plan that commissioners have unveiled for “expediting payments by Wilcox County to its vendors and service providers.“ In leaving the position he has held for the past four and a half months, Higgs added, “I would like to extend my most sincere and profound thanks to my former co-workers, the many new friends I have met and especially to the many citizens who welcomed and provided me with opportunities to really become a part of this great county.” When Higgs was hired, he was given a six-month contract with a clause for renewal if everyone concerned was satisfied. Commission Chairman Tracy Tyndal says he has received no letter of resignation, but was informed by County Clerk Paula Jones that Higgs turned in his keys, cleaned out his desk and told courthouse personnel that he was resigning. The contract, he said, does not expire until the end of November. Tyndal said the commission met last Wednesday in a called session, to discuss a plan for paying 201 unpaid bills totaling $336,000. When Higgs was asked about the situation, Tyndal said, the county manger responded that he was controlling cash flow. In the first two weeks of her employment, Ms. Jones was getting many collection calls, according to Tyndal, so she started investigating and found the unopened bills. Read more at the Cordele Dispatch.

Valley City, North Dakota (population 6,585): Outgoing Valley City Administrator Jon Cameron’s new job is in the Oklahoma city of Perry. The controversial city official announced earlier this month that he’s resigning after months of political turmoil in the city, but he didn’t say where. He said he would leave it up to officials in that city to make the announcement. Perry City Council member Shelbi Duke has confirmed that Cameron will be working there starting next month, replacing a retiring city manager. Cameron also then confirmed it. Perry is about 60 miles north of Oklahoma City. It has a population of about 5,200, slightly smaller than Valley City, which has about 6,600 people. Cameron says it’s about four hours from Dallas, where he has children and grandchildren. Read more at The Bismarck Tribune.

Loomis, California (population 6,430): Loomis’ new town manager considers Loomis a “gem.” Rick Angelocci began as the Loomis town manager on Oct. 13. He replaced Perry Beck who retired on Sept. 30. Angelocci, formerly the assistant city manager and community development director for the City of South Lake Tahoe, will be paid $110,000 per year, plus a $300 per month car allowance. Beck’s pay after 11 years on the job was $116,000. According to a report written by Beck, the council began the search process in May and received 127 applications. The search was narrowed down to seven interview candidates and then four finalists. Councilmember Gary Liss said he is very supportive of Angelocci, as are other council members. Liss said he was most impressed with Angelocci’s background in planning and in working on collaborative agreements with multiple jurisdictions. According to Beck, prior to working for the City of South Lake Tahoe, Angelocci spent two decades at the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency and held the position of Chief of Operations. Based on his planning background, he will also serve as the town planning director. Kathy Kerdus, who held the position, recently retired. Angelocci calls himself a “problem solver” and said he looked very closely at Loomis before applying for the job and was impressed with what he discovered about Loomis. Angelocci said when he was scouting the town, he stopped at Taylors for lunch and left his smartphone on the table. He said he realized it and feared the phone would be gone, but he said he was pleasantly surprised to find an employee had picked it up and was holding it for him. He felt the incident spoke of the character of the town. Angelocci remarked that Loomis had stayed true to its original values outlined when Loomis incorporated. Angelocci said he was also pleased with Loomis’ finances. The new town manager said he plans to continue the traditions already established for Loomis and stay on the path the town has consistently taken. Angelocci said he plans to stick to “slow growth, no debt, continue with sustainability. I hope to do as well as Perry.” Angelocci is divorced and has two daughters still living in South Lake Tahoe – Larissa, 16, and Sarah, 13. He said he is living in an apartment in Roseville and plans to rent for a year before settling in a more permanent location. He said his oldest daughter is a junior at South Lake Tahoe High School, but he may consider sending his younger daughter to Del Oro High School. Read more in The Loomis News.

Indian Wells, California (population 4,958): The Indian Wells City Council hired retired Beverly Hills city manager Roderick J. Wood as the interim Indian Wells city manager during a special meeting on Thursday. Wood, 62, has 40 years experience in municipal government, serving as city manager for multiple cities, including Indian Wells from 1989-1992. Land developer and former Indian Wells mayor Dick Oliphant suggested Wood, a La Quinta resident, for the interim position, Mayor Patrick Mullany told the 40 residents present at Thursday’s announcement. Wood, who retired about 18 months ago and is drawing a pension from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, or CalPERS, will be paid $15,000 monthly. He is eligible only to work 960 hours a year. He will receive no other benefits, according to his contract. His familiarity with the Coachella Valley is one of Wood’s strong points, council members said. For his part, Wood said he recognizes he will have to figure out the issues quickly. But after familiarizing himself with the city budget and the city’s priorities, Wood said his next task will be to foster the public’s confidence, which has been shaken in previous months by the in-fighting among council members and the more recent controversy involving Indian Wells’ soon- to-be former City Manager Greg Johnson. On Oct. 6, Johnson, 50, abruptly tendered his resignation after allegations that he got resident Haddon Libby fired from his job after Libby publicly questioned Johnson’s salary and benefits. Johnson’s last day will be Nov. 4. He, however, has not been conducting the day-to-day city business. Mel Windsor, the city’s Public Safety and Personnel director, has been acting interim city manager since Oct. 7. Libby has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against his former employer, First Foundation Bank, and a complaint against Indian Wells — a notice of intention to file a lawsuit. Some of the residents who attended Thursday’s special meeting believed the council would address Johnson’s resignation and compensation. The announcement of an interim city manager took them by surprise. City officials have remained tight-lipped about Johnson’s severance package, which is expected to be disclosed at council’s next regular meeting, Nov. 3. Johnson earns $254,625 annually and stands to get a year of salary, and accumulated sick and vacation pay. Council interviewed four head-hunting firms on Wednesday and Thursday for the city manager search, but has not made a selection. Once a firm is chosen, the city manager search is expected to take as long as five months. Read more in The Desert Sun.

Viroqua, Wisconsin (population 4,362): The Viroqua City Council, Tuesday night, approved hiring city clerk John Severson as the new city administrator. Severson has served as city clerk for the last six years. He will step into the city administrator role, replacing Matt Giese, who left Viroqua at the end of August to be the village administrator for Cottage Grove, Wis. Mayor Larry Fanta announced Severson’s promotion following a closed session at the council meeting. Prior to Severson’s tenure as the city clerk for Viroqua, he was the clerk/treasurer/administrator for the village of Viola for 10 ½ years. With the internal promotion of Severson from city clerk to city administrator, Fanta said the city will need to find a replacement for the city clerk position. Read more at the Vernon County Broadcaster.

Van Alstyne, Texas (population 3,046): After nearly six months of searching, Van Alstyne appointed a new city manager. Philip Rodriguez was selected out of 70 candidates at Tuesday night’s meeting. He is currently the assistant city manager at Cedar Park, Texas and this new position in Van Alstyne will be his first time serving as a city manager. Mayor Kim DeMasters said the city is growing and she believes Rodriguez is the best candidate to help with that growth. Rodriguez will start his term at the end of November. Read more at KXII.

Grantville, Georgia (population 3,041): Grantville City Manager Mike Renshaw has informed the Grantville City Council that he will be leaving the city in late November to take a position as county manager of Camden County, NC. Renshaw has worked for the city for nearly a year after Grantville went without a city manager for about the same length of time following the abrupt departure of former city manager Scott Starnes, who was arrested on drug-related charges in October 2009. Grantville Mayor Jim Sells said that Renshaw has been “an asset for the city” and will be missed. Renshaw was recently offered a new one-year contract on a split vote from the council, but he opted to take the NC position instead. When Renshaw took the Grantville job at the very end of former Mayor Casey Houston’s tenure in late 2010, Grantville “had been without a city manager for a year, so there was a pile of work that was left undone,” said Sells. His last day of employment with the city will be on Nov. 24. Renshaw’s is only the latest in a wave of resignations by city employees. In recent weeks two electricians and the city clerk have resigned, for a total loss of six employees, out of a total of 23, in just six weeks. Sells said that he expects Renshaw to be replaced quickly. Renshaw said he’s excited about his new opportunity. He said he is most proud of the new “professionalized” police department. He said he and the city staff have also been working “to get the city in a position to take advantage of economic development opportunities in the near future.” Renshaw said he believes the city is better off than he found it. Read more at the Newnan Times-Herald.

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