After meeting the final two candidates in person last week and interviewing them via Zoom this week, the Hendersonville Board of Mayor and Aldermen is expected to appoint the city’s first city administrator at a meeting on July 28.
Carmen Davis, a former Hines County, Miss., county administrator and David Strahl, an interim village manager from Schiller Park, Ill., were interviewed for about an hour each on Tuesday. Gary Jaeckel, an advisor with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), who also sat on the steering committee that vetted the candidates, moderated the interviews.
The city’s BOMA voted 7 to 6 to create the city administrator position in 2019. Its creation transfers the managing of City Hall’s day-to-day operations, as well as the drafting of the city’s annual budget from an elected mayor to an appointed administrator who answers to BOMA.
The board also voted recently to cut the salary the mayor makes from around $100,000 to $42,000 after the mayoral election in November. The new city administrator will make between $130,000 to $150,000.
The city conducted a national search for the position and received 24 applications by the Jan. 31 deadline. A steering committee narrowed the list of candidates down to Davis and Strahl.
An in-person, special-called BOMA meeting had been planned for July 16 in which the two candidates were supposed to be interviewed at City Hall amid social distancing requirements due to COVID-19. However, when Mayor Jamie Clary put citizens comments as well as the possibility of voting on the two candidates on the tentative agenda, the meeting failed to garner a quorum.
Although at least six aldermen said they couldn’t make the planned meeting, many of them did show up July 16 for a meet and greet with the candidates that was scheduled instead of the public meeting. At that time, the two candidates met personally with several aldermen. The meetings were not open to the public.
On Tuesday, Davis told aldermen the position would suit her more than 20 years of experience in municipal government.
“This is definitely fitting for my role as a public servant,” she said. “Because I want to serve the community as I’ve always done.”
Davis held the Hinds County, Miss., post from Sept. 2010 to Jan. 2020. She was relieved of her duties after a new Board of Supervisors was elected, according to news reports at the time of her dismissal.
Ward 4 Alderman Andy Bolt referenced this part of Davis’ background.
“You worked in a tough political environment,” said Bolt.
Davis said that she carried on some of the projects of her predecessor, who is now the county supervisor.
“I came in to assess and learn,” said Davis. “I’m not one needing to have credit or get accolades.”
Ward 3 Alderman Russ Edwards asked if she would allow the city’s police and fire departments to “do their jobs and not micromanage.”
“I’m not a micromanager,” she said. “Many departments are guided by [state guidelines], I’m there to make sure they stay within that guidance.”
Davis, who holds an MBA from Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., as well as a Bachelor’s of Art degree in Urban Planning and Geography, was also a city planner in Detroit, Mich., from June 1993 to July 2001 and from Jan. 2007 to Aug. 2009 prior to that.
Davis highlighted her planning background on Tuesday when asked by Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown how that would be an asset.
She spent 10 years in Detroit advising on planning matters from zoning and developing zoning ordinances to working with community groups impacted by development, Davis added.
One of the tensest moments during the interviews came when Ward 6 Alderman Jim Waters asked Davis if she would consider signing a one-year contract.
“That is totally inappropriate,” interjected Ward 1 Alderwoman Peg Petrelli. “That’s a complete set-up question.”
“Don’t answer that,” added Vice Mayor Arlene Cunningham.
Davis said she didn’t want to make a final commitment “at this point.”
Another tense moment came when Mayor Jamie Clary asked why he had been muted for much of Davis’ interview.
“I think we need to look into why the chairman was muted,” he said.
Strahl has been serving as interim village manager in Schiller Park since January 2019.
When Ward 4 Alderman Steve Brown asked why he hasn’t been offered the position full time, Strahl said that the position has been offered to him, but the compensation is not what he would like.
When asked how he would deal with morale issues among city employees, Strahl said that generally, people want to know how they fit in with an organization and that they are appreciated.
“People don’t go into municipal government to get rich, they have deeper values,” he said. “The value they add to the community has to be acknowledged.”
Strahl was also asked how this job fits into his career path.
Prior to his current position, he served for a year as the city administrator in O’Fallon, Mo., from Oct. 2017 to Oct. 2018. He was an assistant village manager for the village of Mount Prospect, Ill., from 1993 to 2016.
“I want to be involved in a growing community,” he said. Strahl also noted the appeal of becoming the city’s first city administrator.
“To be able to lay the groundwork is exciting to me,” he added.
Strahl holds a Master’s of Public Administration degree from Northern Illinois University in urban management, and a Bachelor’s of Science degree in political science from Manchester University.
BOMA is expected to vote on the two candidates at the regularly scheduled meeting on July 28. The meeting will likely be held again electronically as COVID-19 concerns continue. After the chosen candidate accepts the position, board members will vote on a contract during the Aug. 11 meeting. Interim City Administrator Dave LeMarbre’s contract with the city runs through September.