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

KFP: Tony Sears is new Kinston city manager

city-manager-mayor-served
Janet S. Carter / The Free Press

by David Anderson

Although many in the community wanted Kinston officials to look close to home when selecting a new city manager, local leaders looked to a small city more than 150 miles to the west to find their man.

Tony Sears, 34, who is currently serving as Randleman’s city manager, was tapped as Kinston’s newest city manager Monday.

The members of the City Council, after having met with Sears several times, voted unanimously to approve his contract.

“Congratulations, Mr. Sears,” said Mayor B.J. Murphy after the vote was taken.

Sears is scheduled to start work Nov. 2.

In brief remarks before the council Monday, the new city manager said he was looking forward to coming to Kinston.

“Obviously Kinston has some issues, and I look forward to sorting those out and helping the city move forward,” he said.

Before coming to Kinston, Sears spent nearly seven years as city manager of the town of Randleman.

The town of about 3,600 people is most famous for being the hometown of NASCAR driver Richard Petty. It is nestled in Randolph County, part of the greater Greensboro area.

Sears is married with two sons, ages 9 and 7. Monday was his youngest son’s birthday.

He attended high school in the Wake County town of Apex, and graduated from Appalachian State University in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, with a concentration in town, city and county government.

He also minored in community planning and history. Sears earned his Master’s of Public Administration from ASU in 2002.

In addition to serving as Randleman’s city manager, Sears interned with the town of Troy in 2000 and Apex in 2001. He was town manager for Kenly in 2002 and 2003.

Sears will take over the reins from Interim City Manager Bill Ellis, who has been at City Hall since July 1. Ellis will return to his post as director of the Kinston-Lenoir County Department of Parks and Recreation.

Ellis stepped in as interim manager after former City Manager Scott Stevens announced this past spring that he would serve as Goldsboro’s city manager.

Stevens had spent four years as city manager and had worked for the City of Kinston since the late 1990s.

 “I’m just happy to be here, and I just can’t wait for 30 days to be up,” Sears said.

 

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

 

Breakout:

Name: Tony Sears

Occupation: New Kinston city manager

Education: B.S., political science, Appalachian State University, 2000; Master’s in Public Administration, ASU, 2002

Family: Wife Kelly, sons Trevor, 9 and Tyler, 7

 

KFP: Kinston officials hope to select city manager within next 30 days

by David Anderson
Kinston Free Press

While a set timeframe has not been established, Kinston city officials hope to select a permanent city manager within the next 30 days.

“My preference would be that we move within the next 30 days, but we haven’t put a definite timeline on ourselves either,” Mayor B.J. Murphy said Friday.

Councilman Joe Tyson stressed the need to take as much time as possible to select the right person.

“We are not taking this lightly,” Tyson said. “We have taken an inordinate amount of time, going over the resumes, talking with people, double checking.”

“We realize this is very important for the city, and we’re going to take as long as possible to get the right selectee for the city of Kinston,” he continued.

Bill Ellis has served as Kinston’s interim city manager since July 1; he took over after former City Manager Scott Stevens resigned to become Goldsboro’s city manager.

In less than three months on the job, Ellis has dealt with Hurricane Irene and its aftermath, widespread power outages caused by the hurricane, developed methods to deal with crime and clean up neighborhoods and transportation issues.

“I think that Ellis has done a super job as an interim in his position, in facing the aftermath of the hurricane and everything else,” Tyson said. “He’s well-versed in the knowledge of Kinston.”

Despite a performance many in the city regard as stellar, Ellis has not applied for the permanent city manager’s position — the City Council and the mayor stated when they began their search that anyone who takes the interim position could not apply for the permanent slot.

Tyson said that helped spur a greater pool of applicants for the job — about 50 people initially applied.

“If you allow the interim person to also apply, a lot of people will assume you’re just going to move that interim person up, so why even apply,” Tyson explained.

Ellis said Friday he had not applied for the permanent position and plans to return to the position of Kinston/Lenoir County Recreation and Parks director, which he has held since 1996, once a permanent manager is selected.

“It’s been a very rewarding experience,” he said. “I enjoyed every minute of it; I have learned a lot and tried to do the best job I can possibly do.”

Ellis said it had been a “privilege to serve the community” as interim manager.

“We’ve got great city department heads and a great staff, and it’s been an honor to be able to lead them,” he said.

Murphy and Tyson said there have been some very good candidates who have applied for city manager.

“We had around 50 candidates to initially apply,” Tyson said. “We were able to eliminate a number of those; we think that the ones were are looking at now are qualified, and I think out of that list we have now we will able to pick someone that is highly qualified and will be able to represent the city well.”

City officials are not at liberty to give out names of applicants, though. Applications have been discussed during closed sessions, because the process is considered a personnel matter.

“It would not be fair to the applicants, and according to state general statutes for closed sessions, we’re not permitted to do that,” Tyson said.

 

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

 

KFP Column: Let’s talk about Ellis….

by Bryan Hanks
Kinston Free Press

Some thoughts, news and observations on the first fall weekend of 2011 … ELLIS CAN’T BE CITY MANAGER: According to Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy and veteran city councilman Joe Tyson, Interim City Manager Bill Ellis can’t be named to the full-time manager position because he accepted the interim post with the caveat he wouldn’t take the full-time job. I can appreciate the thinking there – why would you have good candidates apply if they think the interim is going to be named?

But I’ll reiterate what I said in this space a few weeks back – there simply isn’t a better candidate out there than Bill Ellis. His leadership over the past few months, during arguably one of the most critical times in our city’s history (crime wave, Hurricane Irene, etc.), has been as strong as you could expect from a full-time city manager.

No, I’m not Bill’s campaign manager and – as humble a human being as he is – he’s probably embarrassed so many folks have taken up this cause. But Mr. Mayor and City Council: you’re going to have to hit a home run if you’re going to find someone who has half the qualifications Bill has for this position. It’s not written in stone that you can’t hire him; if you can’t find the right candidate, consider a man who loves this city as much or more than anyone here.

_________________________________________________________________
Here’s an email I sent to Bryan Hanks on Sunday, September 18th

From: BJ Murphy
Sent: Sunday, September 18, 2011 9:37 PM
To: ‘Bryan Hanks’
Subject: Appointment of Interim City Manager

Bryan,

Just for your information since you wrote about it last week [Sunday, September 11, 2011].

Several citizens have made comments to me about Bill Ellis before and after your column.  I agree 100% that Bill has been terrific at the role, especially with the crime spike and hurricane issues we were all dealt immediately following his appointment.

However, there was an agreement among Council that because we had several qualified internal and external candidates, that we didn’t want to favor one over another during the interim period.  Therefore, whoever we chose as interim also agreed to not be considered for the permanent role.

I have avoided mentioning this agreement in public because honestly I couldn’t remember if it was said in open or closed session.  However, I found the minutes [Pages from minutes_06_20_2011 – Interim Manager] and the video from the 6/20/2011 meeting of the council as you see attached.  Notice that Will made the statement publicly, Joe made the motion reiterating the statement and Alice seconded the motion.

http://tacc9.com/city_council_june_20_2011.htm
Start at 1:55

Take care,
BJ

_________________________________________________________________
Here’s the podcast interview I did with Bryan Hanks before he wrote the 9/25/2011 column:
9/23/2011
http://bjmurphy.org/podcast-interview-with-the-kfp/ – Discussion at 31:30

Podcast Interview with the KFP

by Bryan Hanks and Jon Dawson 

Free Press Radio Program Seven:

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy joins Bryan Hanks and Jon Dawson on this week’s Free Press Radio Program to talk about everything going on in the city, including the mayoral veto, the proposed Kinston Bypass and many other things. Hanks and Dawson also lament the break-up of R.E.M. and the expansion of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

  To listen:Click on the link below to download this episode. Depending on the speed of your internet connection the podcast may be accessed by clicking on the link once with the left side of your mouse, or by clicking on each link with the right side of your mouse and choosing the “save target as” option:

Free Press Radio Program Seven – Interview  starts at 8:05

Topics Covered:
Facebook changes
2009 campaign for mayor
2011 voter turnout
Outgoing City Council members
Nonpartisan elections and USDOJ
Mayoral veto
Hwy 70 bypass
Forced annexation
City Manager vacancy
Electric and water rates
My future
GOP Presidential race
I’ll be a new daddy again!

45:45
“Everyone has an ego to an extent and it’s a matter of how you control it.”

“Even during all my wins [I try to] be humble about it.  And, during my losses it reminds me about why I’m humble about my wins.”

“Wherever the Lord leads me I will certainly go.”