Search for new LaGrange city manager begins

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2016

By Tyler H. Jones

LaGRANGE — The search for the city’s next chief administrator moved forward this week when City Council voted to allow Mayor Jim Thornton to hire a Thomasville-based consultant to guide the process.

Thornton, along with the city attorney, are slated to draft an agreement with Tom Berry of Underwood & Co., a municipal consulting firm, to help assist the mayor and City Council as they search for a new city manager to replace the late Tom Hall, who led city staff for more than two decades and died unexpectedly in February.

“Because LaGrange is so unique and provides such a value to their residents — more so than most — I know the Council wants to retain that value, so it’s extremely important to find a good candidate,” Berry told the Daily News by phone Wednesday.

Berry has quoted the city a flat fee of $5,000 for his services to help attract and compile candidates for review by the mayor and Council, Thornton said. The process, Berry said, would likely take about 90 days. Berry is scheduled to meet with city officials April 13 to finalize a candidate profile and craft a request for applications, Thornton said.

An advertisement for the position will likely be published after the mayor and Council sign off on it, Berry said, and would run for at least 30 days, with the selection process beginning in about 60 days. After about 90 days, the mayor and Council could begin interviewing candidates, Berry said. That time frame, though, could change based on decisions by the mayor and Council.

“Applicants will know how good the organization and the city is, so I look to get a lot of applications for this job,” Berry said. “We’ll have a process where we screen candidates — based on that ad and their experience level — to some manageable number, then the Council will pare that down to some finalists.”

Under state law, the mayor and Council must publicly disclose the finalists for the position and cannot take action until two weeks after that disclosure.

“That gives the public a chance to know who they (the candidates) are, to see who they are and — if they need — to weigh in with the Council,” Berry said.

LaGrange isn’t the only city to use Berry to find a new city manager. About six years ago, he assisted elected officials in Camilla in finding their city manager

Danny Palmer, a City Council member of Camilla, said by phone Wednesday he was impressed with Berry’s services, and added he brought with him his 19 years’ experience as city manager of Thomasville.

“I was very pleased with his services,” Palmer said. “He came highly recommended and he’s done several search processes in Moultrie and other towns. Since he retired from Thomasville, he does this and he does a very good job at it.”

One thing Palmer said he liked about Berry was his experience managing a city that had enterprise operations, such as the sale of utilities.

“So many of them (city manager candidates) don’t know about electricity and gas, or enterprise funds that the cities own. They’re very intricate, and you have to know what you’re doing to understand and manage them. Of course, he knew how to look for someone who could do that.”

Tyler H. Jones is a reporter with LaGrange Daily News. He may be reached by calling 706-884-7311, ext. 2155.