City manager won't have to live in city

COVINGTON -- A majority of City Council members reached a consensus at a special called meeting Monday to remove language from a recruitment brochure that says a new city manager will preferably live in the city.

Councilman Keith Dalton said he wanted to remove that sentence because not everyone may be able to live in the city and it could prevent some quality candidates from applying.

As an example, he said a candidate with a special needs child might need to have that child in a particular school in another county.

"People commute to Atlanta every day. We have people who work at factories here that commute from Alabama now come to work here every day," he said.

"We could have a great candidate not apply," because of emphasizing the preference that a candidate live in the city, City Manager Steve Horton agreed.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston added that, "This, without a doubt in my mind will potentially filter some people and have them not apply because they can't for some reason move to the city of Covington."

The consensus to remove the language was 3 to 2, with council members Chris Smith and Janet Goodman opposing. Councilman Mike Whatley was absent.

The city's search firm, The Mercer Group Inc. of Atlanta, will recruit candidates over six weeks between Sept. 13 and Oct. 29. The Mercer Group President and CEO Jim Mercer is leading the selection process.

Smith said he'd like for that time period to be shortened, given that it means the top five candidates won't be interviewed by city officials until early December. Horton is retiring Dec. 21. Smith said he'd prefer to reduce the recruitment period by two weeks.

But other council members disagreed. "I think if we employ this man to do this job, I think he knows better than we do what kind of time he needs to do his job," said Councilwoman Janet Goodman.

"We're paying him too much to speculate on what he needs," said Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams.

The Mercer Group's fee is $15,000 plus out-of-pocket expenses not to exceed $4,500, such as travel, lodging, telephone and research. The cost does not include the expense of final candidates traveling to interview with city officials, which varies depending on location of the candidate, but The Mercer Group estimates the cost at $750 to $1,000 per person, with the city to reimburse each candidate.

The council will review the top 12 to 15 candidates in early November and whittle them down to the top five. The top five will be interviewed in early December.