Council members hope to schedule Brian Johnson, the city manager of Garden City, Ga., and Gerald Smith, most recently director of general services in Kansas City, Mo., for overnight trips to include a tour of Anniston, a formal interview and a lunchtime meet-and-greet with the public.
“We’ve got to get busy,” said Councilman Jay Jenkins.
Members of the council want to move quickly in the selection process; their top two choices had already withdrawn from consideration before they made it to the first round of interviews.
“They’re going to drop like flies on us,” Jenkins said on what could happen if they don’t expedite the process.
Smith told the council Wednesday that his greatest strength is team-building.
“I’m a collaborative manager,” he said. “I like to work with the talent that we have and groom the talent that we have and to develop the talent that we have.” Through this collaborative approach, he said, he can establish a rapport and relationship with city employees and make sure the workforce is capable of delivering high levels of service.
Bloat in government is a frequent problem, Smith told the council. He said he has spent much of his career finding ways to deliver services more efficiently, including at his last position with Kansas City, where he consolidated several operations into a new department. Another round of consolidations last year left Smith one of three department heads deleted from the budget. In his 20-year career, Smith has served as chief administrator of two suburban local governments near Chicago.
Smith also told the council that he is a proponent of green initiatives, both for efficiency’s sake and to be good stewards of energy.
Council members interviewed Johnson on Tuesday. He has served as city manager of Garden City since 2007. Before he began his career in local government, he served in both the Navy and Army, where he helped rebuild local government in suburban Baghdad after the invasion of Iraq.
Johnson told the council Tuesday that he tries to “lead from the front”: he is literally the first to arrive and last to leave City Hall each day and works a day a month along city employees in a variety of roles.
Johnson said he’s cut costs in Garden City by applying a zero-based budgeting approach, meaning departments start from scratch each budget cycle rather than working off last year’s budget.
“It was ironic how much money was merely a hanger-on in certain line items merely because last year it was in there, and the year before it was in there, and so why wouldn’t we have it?” he said.
While Anniston certainly has some challenges, he said, the city’s resources — including environmental and recreational outlets, potential draw for retirees and a downtown with real potential — provide opportunities to meet those challenges.
Also among the council’s top six candidates are Scott Larese, Allyn Holladay and David Rutherford, who interviewed on Wednesday, and Angela Christian, who interviewed Tuesday.
Larese is currently the chief executive officer of Navigator Development Group in Enterprise. He retired from the Army in 2008, where he served for his last three years as Fort Rucker’s garrison commander, essentially the city manager of the installation.
In Larese’s terms, he sees his leadership style as that of a quarterback running a team of city employees with a plan handed to him by the council.
Larese told the council that while at Fort Rucker, he was able to cut spending at the installation by altering revenue redistribution to reward good budgeting practices.
Holladay wrapped up two terms as a Homewood City Council member last November and currently serves as campus administrator of Virginia College Online in Birmingham.
She talked about Homewood’s growth over the past several years, including a downtown filled with local businesses rather than chains. Anniston, she said, is in a great position to leverage both its environmental and cultural resources. “You will draw those people and those families who want to live somewhere where these things are important” she said.
David Rutherford runs the city of McMinnville, Tenn. He has served as a planner in multiple local governments and previously as chief administrator for both city and county governments in Georgia.
Rutherford has experience promoting tourism and branding in Savannah and McMinnville. He said Anniston should begin its tourism efforts by trying to draw visitors in from Atlanta and Birmingham.
Christian, the deputy county manager of North Carolina’s Onslow County, told the council Tuesday that she is a collaborative leader. She has moved up the ranks of local government over a 20-year career with more than a decade in the finance department of Columbus, Ga. She cites budgeting and finance as her area of strength, noting that she has worked with budgets ranging from $2 million to more than $300 million.
Stewart said Wednesday afternoon the other candidates aren’t out of the running yet; if necessary, the council will continue to bring candidates to town in pairs for more formal interviews and introduction to the community.
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.