KFP: New Kinston city manager says challenges facing town helped draw him to job

by David Anderson
Kinston Free Press

Although he is coming to a city that has about seven times the population of his current one, and is facing major challenges with crime, unemployment, quality of roads, its budget, soaring utility costs and more, new Kinston City Manager Tony Sears said those challenges helped bring him here.

“There’s two types of managers,” Sears said Tuesday, a day after the Kinston City Council voted unanimously to approve his contract. “There’s the managers who are long-term managers who are content where they’re at, and there’s other managers who seek challenges; to be honest, that’s part of the draw to Kinston.”

Sears, who will start work Nov. 2, said he made several visits to Kinston in recent months and conducted research on the issues facing the city.

“I don’t have all the information I need right now to be making informed decisions (on issues), and that’s one of the things I need to do when I get there, is sit down with the department heads and the staff and get caught up on the issues,” he said.

He has spent the last seven years as manager of the Randolph County town of Randleman, which has a population of about 3,600.

Kinston, by comparison, has a population of about 21,000, a current budget of $99 million and a workforce of 65.

Randleman’s fiscal 2012 budget is $6.1 million and its workforce numbers 50 — it is 51 including Sears.

Sears stressed the experience and talent of Kinston’s department heads and staff would help make the transition to a larger city easier — he also said he was looking to make the move to a larger community after seven years in Randleman.

“When you’ve got experienced department heads that can do the right thing, and you trust them to do the right thing, that makes the transition a little bit easier,” he said.

Sears described Kinston residents as “extremely friendly and welcoming.”

He said one of the most important lessons he has learned in his previous management positions is to build up a good support staff.

“Surrounding yourself with good intelligent people is what you do to have a good, effective government, and I’m lucky that that’s already in place,” Sears said of Kinston.

Sears was among 50 candidates who applied for the Kinston city manager’s position, and Councilman Will Barker said the field was narrowed down to three finalists, including Sears.

The council offered him the position on Sept. 23, and he accepted on Sept. 27, Barker said.

“He had checked us out, he had done his homework and he just had an air of confidence about him,” Barker said of his impressions of Sears.

The City Council unanimously approved his contract Monday, for which he will receive an annual salary of $110,000.

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy said he was impressed by Sears’ record of good financial management — the local Courier-Tribune newspaper reported Randleman’s fund balance had increased by 83 percent on Sears’ watch, and the municipal debt by 45 percent.

Murphy was also impressed by the manager’s work on utility issues. Randleman has had major problems in recent years with the maintenance of its water and sewer infrastructure, and Sears has worked to get those problems fixed.

“Tony admits he doesn’t know it all, but he’s also smart, honest, and knows how to finance on a shoestring,” Murphy said.

 

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or danderson@freedomenc.com.

 

BREAKOUT BOX:

 

Kinston vs. Randleman:

Population:

Kinston: 21,000

Randleman: 3,600

 

2012 budget:

Kinston: $99 million

Randleman: $6.1 million

 

Municipal workforce:

Kinston: 365

Randleman: 51

 

Unemployment rate, August 2011 (by county)

Lenoir County: 10.9 percent

Randolph County: 10.1 percent

Sources: Free Press archives, Tony Sears, N.C. Employment Security Commission