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Wayne Bowers: Advice for Greenville’s Leaders

Our five-part discussion with former Greenville City Manager Wayne Bowers concludes. Click the links for earlier installments.

Part one     Part two     Part three     Part four

By Anthony Noel

GREENVILLE GUARDIAN: Is staying in Greenville something you’re interested in, or are you willing to pick up and move?

WAYNE BOWERS: (smiling)We’re planning on moving because I think it’s probably better for a city manager not to stay in his town.

Wayne Bowers

I think the tendency would be to second guess, and people would come and say, “Is this [new] guy doing it right? What to do you think?”

Fortunately, in all of my other jobs, I always went from one job to the other, so I’m in that routine of when I finish I leave, and it’s on to the next position. So we’ll be moving someday. We like Greenville, I think there’s a great future here for the community, but I think there’ll be an opportunity to move somewhere else.

If there’s not, if I don’t take a job somewhere else, we’ll probably move towards

Charlotte, my wife’s family is in that area, and we’d like to be near family. Charlotte has a wonderful airport, there’s a direct flight to any of my three children at a reasonable rate out of Charlotte. We’ve got a great airport in Greenville, but you’ve still gotta go to Charlotte!

GG: One of the TV stations, in their coverage of your retirement, I think it was WITN, said that you submitted retirement papers six months ago?

WB: That’s wrong, that was my friend [reporter/anchor] Lynnette Taylor.

Lynnette covered me when I was in Gainesville, she was at the TV station [there]. She interviewed me when I was coming to Greenville. She was in Greenville, went to Gainesville, and came back to Greenville. So we’ve known each other in two different cities.

That’s not uncommon, Bill Wilson, the news director at ‘ITN, we met when I was in Spartanburg. And Jim Needleman, with one of the TV stations, one of the anchors –

GG:(sarcastically) Well, you just loaded up the media with your people, didn’t you?

WB: (laughs) Yeah, yeah I did! They all came!

But what I told Lynnette was I started thinking about it six months ago. But I didn’t file my papers [until January].

GG: Okay, got it. Did the [police] chief’s resignation [William Anderson] push you at all to think maybe now’s a good time? It seems like he just, you know, got another job.

WB: No, it had no impact on my decision. He and I have talked about it.

He was coming under a lot of criticism, I think a lot of it unjustifiable. Crime was down, the figures were down. Which doesn’t mean anything if you’re a victim of crime, you don’t care what numbers say. And crime is still an issue here, but I think the chief just felt like he was being mistreated.

William has a good reputation statewide, he’s on the board of directors of the state [police] chiefs association, very well known by the members of the Governor’s Crime Commission, so it didn’t surprise me that Asheville [NC] was interested.

“Chief Anderson was coming under

a lot of criticism,

I think a lot of it unjustifiable.”

One of the reporters said it was just a coincidence, and it was a coincidence that I announced [my resignation] one Friday and [the chief] announced the next Friday. No one knew that he was going to be given the job, I mean, when you get competition like that there’s other finalists for the job.

I talked to the city manager in Asheville on the Monday [before] the chief announced on Friday that he got the job. And as of Monday they were checking references on two candidates. I don’t know who the other one was because it was a confidential search. But I gave William a good recommendation. But by then I’d already turned my papers in. It was just coincidence that [both resignations] came about the same time.

GG: When you started thinking about it six – well now eight – months ago, were there certain conditions where you said to yourself well, if this – let’s face it, there was an election coming up. Did the results of the election play any role in your decision?

WB: I’d already made my decision.

GG: Do you feel there’s a scenario under which you would have stayed? Has anything changed enough since the election that it sort of confirmed your decision? Do you feel comfortable with where Greenville’s heading?

WB: Yeah, as I said, I think the community has a lot of great assets and think there’s still a lot of great employees here.

The city council, mayor and everyone, they need to work together. They need to pursue compromise and try to work together as a team. That’s the best thing they can do for the staff.

GG: Do you think that’s lacking right now?

WB: I think that they could improve.

Politics is the art of compromise, and you’ve got to be able to give a little and work together as a team and I would suggest that council keep that as their goal – and supporting the staff – and I think my leaving, the Chief’s leaving, Wes Anderson leaving [director of public works], I think council realizes that it’s better to be supportive. I mean, I don’t expect that they will agree with everything I do. But at least be respectful of the staff.

GG: Do you feel like there’s a lack of respect?

WB: I think there is some undue criticism of what the staff does, and I think the council realizes that now. They don’t have to agree with us, but make sure they are acting respectfully.

GG: I want to talk a bit about filling the now-open police chief position.

You didn’t write the book, but you did write a chapter in one about hiring a police chief, from the perspective of the city manager. [Book: Selecting a Police Chief: A Handbook for Local Government (1999) published by International City/County Management Association, edited by Police Executive Research Forum, Washington, DC. Chapter title: “The Local Government Manager’s Perspective”] What advice would you give council, or the search committee? What’s the best way to do a search like this, under these circumstances, where you’re not only losing your chief, you’re also losing your other two top managers in the city [Bowers and Wes Anderson]?

WB: It’s a different circumstance than normal. The advice I gave council, and I think they agree with this, is the [city] manager has to pick the police chief, that’s the way our [form of] government [the council/manager model] works.

You’re not going to get a good chief not knowing who the manager is. Thom Moton [assistant city manager under Bowers] is going to fill in as interim manager, but a chief wants to know who’s the boss going to be, it’s just natural. [Moton recently named the city’s chief planner, Chris Padgett, as his interim assistant manager.]

“I think my leaving,

the Chief’s leaving,

Wes Anderson leaving,

I think city council realizes that

it’s better to be supportive of staff.”

So the way we’ve got the process set up is the city manager [search] is going on now. I’ve hired the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the premiere executive search firm for police chiefs. I’ve used them twice before. They know who is a good chief, the people out there who aren’t really looking for a job, who can be enticed into taking a job.

We expect to have a new city manager sometime in July, August. The police chief search will be set up to be one month behind. So when the new manager gets here, the idea is, within one month, to have a list of semi-finalists that the new manager can look through. That way the people who are wanting to be police chief will know who they’re going to work for, and that’s key.

What usually happens – what I’ve always done – the IACP headquarters is in Alexandria, Virginia. The new manager will go up there, spend a day, and they’ll go through like 15 candidates, what’s this guy’s strength, this girl’s weakness, and then pick about five to be finalists.

It’ll be confidential; if [a candidate is] secure in where [they] are, [they] just don’t want everybody thinking [they] might be leaving.

When I hired Chief Anderson I did get [then Pitt County] Sheriff Manning, because you know, he’d be working closely with him, I asked him to interview the candidates too.

GG: And where does the public works director fit into this puzzle?

WB: It’ll be the same thing, but we won’t hire a headhunter for that, it’s not as high-profile so it’ll be handled internally, and it’ll be two months after the new manager is in. Get the police chief the first month, then the public works director.

We’ve got a good interim public works director, Scott Godefroy, who is a city engineer, he’s going to be in there for several months.

I’m laying out a plan, the next guy or girl who does my job may do something different, but I think that it’s a reasonable approach.

GG: What advice would you have for the next manager?

WB: My advice would be to build relationships. It takes time, but there’s a lot of key players in the community, and you know, get to know them. The Chamber of Commerce, NAACP, other organizations, the whole spectrum – just build good relationships, and you’ll be successful if you cultivate those relationships. There’s good people in all our organizations that you can work with.

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