Jackson County has a pretty bad track record of hiring county managers. In the 10-year history of its county manager government, the county has sifted through five managers, none of whom were really suited to leading Jackson County.
In the coming weeks, county leaders will be interviewing candidates for the current open county manager’s position and the pressure is really on. Another poor hiring decision would totally discredit the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
So what should county leaders be looking for in prospective candidates?
Here’s my list for the BOC:
1. Hire a person old enough to have gotten a lot of local government experience, but young enough to stay around for a while. Jackson County doesn’t need someone whiling away time waiting for retirement. That’s half-hearted leadership. On the other hand, don’t hire a young climber who views Jackson County as just a temporary stepping-stone to bigger and better things. Those people waste a lot of time polishing their resume on the county’s dime.
2. Don’t get someone who describes himself as “visionary.” We’ve been there in the past and it led to a massive amount of debt put on the backs of taxpayers. Today, and for the foreseeable future, Jackson County doesn’t have the financial resources to build any more monuments to public officials’ egos. Visions cost money. Jackson doesn’t have it.
3. Do hire someone with a record of solid fiscal management. Look into the candidates’ records and see how the governments they’ve served are doing financially. Take the big spenders off the list.
4. Don’t hire someone who views their job as being the advocate for county employees. A county manager should answer to the citizens through the BOC and not be the figurehead for county staff. A county manager is a management leader, not a quasi-union representative. Some managers don’t know the difference.
5. Do hire someone who has a record of being involved in a complex local government. Jackson County is probably the most complex county in the state in many ways. If a manager can’t juggle political, social and economic complexity, he won’t succeed here.
6. Don’t hire someone with a dysfunctional personality. Part of a manager’s job is to be a leader. Those with the personality of a wet dishrag won’t make it. Nor will those whose demeanor is disingenuously gregarious. Hire someone with a professional outlook, outgoing but not plastic.
7. Don’t hire someone who is used to having six assistant county managers to do the work. Jackson County isn’t that large and can’t afford to hire a cadre of assistants while the real county manager acts like a CEO of a Fortune 500 company.
8. Do hire someone who has the guts to make tough decisions. Don’t hire a weak weenie just because you think he would be more likely to bow under your personal political pressure. Been there, done that. Get someone who isn’t afraid of their own shadow.
9. Hire someone who will tell you the truth and not just what you want to hear. That takes courage.
10. Hire someone who promises to be open and transparent in all of his dealings with the public, political leaders and county staff. Those prone to secrecy and playing political games behind closed doors will not last in Jackson County.
11. Hire someone whose life — professionally and personally — reflects a sense of stability. You shouldn’t be buying problems; you should be buying solutions.
After a decade, it’s time for Jackson County to get a stable leader in the county manager’s seat. That will probably cost money, but if the BOC can make the right hiring decision now, it will pay for itself in the long run.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of Mainstreet Newspapers and editor of The Jackson Herald. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.