'We Have To Protect' County Manager Applicants, Cotham Says
Four Mecklenburg County Commissioners will be reviewing the applicants for the new county manager.
It's only four because the other five commissioners are locked out of the process. The board voted 6-3 recently to limit the number of commissioners who can see the applications until finalists are chosen.
Board Chairwoman Pat Cotham pushed for this process, and she joins us now.
Kevin: So let's start from the beginning. Why only the four commissioners instead of all nine?
Cotham: We hired a search firm, and they in turn contacted the candidates - passive - we call them passive candidates. So the candidates did not come to us, they did not apply, the search firm went to them. So they are currently employed, and they get some control of their information because they have to protect their jobs. And we understand that. So they want privacy right now. They want as few people as possible to know their information until things get farther down the road. So we had to decide last week, do we want to go for this higher caliber of candidates and keep their information as they wish, because they said they would withdraw.
Kevin: So just to make sure I understand, the candidates for this position said that if it was all nine, that they would withdraw their name from the hiring process?
Cotham: They wanted as few as possible to see their information because they were worried about too many people knowing their information. And even though I trust commissioners and confidentiality is very important to us, things can happen. Someone could accidentally have their phone turned on. So, again, they just want to protect their jobs, and we have to respect that process.
Kevin: So the four commissioners who are part of this committee are yourself, Bill James, Vilma Leake, and Karen Bentley. The other five are also elected officials, so why shouldn't those voters have their representatives as part of this review process to determine who will be the daily manager? It is kind of unprecedented isn't it?
Cotham: Again, as we explained, the candidates have some rights here too. And if the candidates are going to participate, they have a few rules. And the rules are, for them, again in their situation they have to protect their income for their families, they didn't want it to be put out. We have to protect them. Its a judgment call. Do we want to lose these potential great candidates? Or do we want our committee to do this work and make a recommendation? And so we voted 6-3 to do that. We have to be respectful of these people. They get to pick the rules for their own private resume. So we can't tell them how it is going to work.
Kevin: Did you say that was something that the candidates wanted? They wanted only four people versus nine or they just wanted as few people as possible?
Cotham: They wanted as few as possible.
Kevin: So they didn't actually give a number. They didn't say four or nine or somewhere in between?
Cotham: I don't know. I didn't really ask that question. But our search firm did tell them that the board in June decided with the recommendation of the human resource director that we had a smaller committee.
Kevin: You know it has kind of been well documented that the board has had some trouble getting along from time to time, and the firing of former county manager Harry Jones was certainly controversial. Does trust among the board have anything to do with this at all? You mentioned leaks and things getting out on Twitter and stuff like that. Is trust among the board a concern?
Cotham: I believe it is a concern to the candidates. And again, this is pretty common. In corporate America, this is pretty common.
Kevin: What about some sort of signed agreement of confidentiality among all nine (commissioners)?
Cotham: I did ask human resources for a confidentiality agreement. We did that. You know, again, as I read the resumes and the letters that the candidates sent, there were many of them who said that they were concerned about their current employment and they need this to be very confidential, and they are not agreeing to have their information put out there. They said that if that is your case, I would like to withdraw my name.
Kevin: Well don't these candidates have to assume at some point that references are going to be checked and it is going to get outside this group of whatever size might be reviewing it?
Cotham: I'm sure. But again, we are in the beginning of the process. So I think that if they (the candidates) get to be a part of the final group, we will have to have those discussions with them. But again, we are very early. People that we might eliminate, you know, they just want to go back to their life. They don't want it out there that this is a job that they sent their resume for and now the whole world knows it.