Ne­wark’s next city man­ager?

Coun­cil to con­sider Cole­man for per­ma­nent role

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHAN­NON jshan­[email protected]­pub.com

After serv­ing as act­ing city man­ager for 18 months, Tom Cole­man is now un­der con­sid­er­a­tion for the role on a per­ma­nent ba­sis.

City coun­cil voted Mon­day night to reopen the search process for Cole­man only. He will go through the same process as two un­suc­cess­ful can­di­dates did this sum­mer, in­clud­ing a pub­lic ques­tion-and-an­swer ses­sion, a pub­lic meet-and-greet and a pre­sen­ta­tion to the staff.

“He’s a tremen­dous can­di­date,” Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton said Tues­day. “He has more in­sti­tu­tional knowl­edge than any­one else, and his man­age­rial skills are top­notch.”

Mon­day’s vote is the lat­est twist in the lengthy process to re­place for­mer city man­ager Carol Houck, who re­signed in May 2017. At the time, coun­cil tapped Cole­man, then the pub­lic works di­rec­tor, to lead the city un­til a per­ma­nent suc­ces­sor could be found.

The search process didn’t be­gin in earnest un­til this spring, when a con­sul­tant hired by the city be­gan in­ter­view­ing and vet­ting can­di­dates. Two fi­nal­ists, Mark Reeter and Vin­cent Jones, went through the pub­lic in­ter­view process, but coun­cil de­clined to hire ei­ther one, leav­ing the po­si­tion in limbo.

Ini­tially, Cole­man was not in­ter­ested in tak­ing on the role longterm, and though coun­cil talked to him about tak­ing it, he did not ap­ply for the job when ap­pli­ca­tions were ac­cepted in the spring. How­ever, he said, he had a change of heart and re­newed con­ver­sa­tions with coun­cil after the two fi­nal­ists were re­jected in July.

“It’s been en­joy­able do­ing it,” Cole­man said Tues­day. “I’ve liked it, and we’ve got­ten a lot done. You gain con­fi­dence the more you do it.”

Coun­cil held a closed-door meet­ing to dis­cuss the search process Oct. 30. It held a sec­ond pri­vate ses­sion Mon­day night and then voted 5-2 to open the process to Cole­man, with Mayor Polly Sierer and Coun­cil­man Chris Hamil­ton op­posed.

Hamil­ton then made a mo­tion to reopen the search process to any­one, but his pro­posal gained no sup­port from his col­leagues.

“Let’s go do an open search process like we promised the res­i­dents,” Hamil­ton said Tues­day. “If Tom wants to put his hat in the ring, more power to him.”

He said that while he re­spects Cole­man, he doesn’t be­lieve it’s right to “anoint” him city man­ager.

“I’m frankly dis­ap­pointed in coun­cil. This is a dog-and-pony show,” Hamil­ton said. “What we are set­ting up is a one-per­son in­ter­view process.”

He said he be­lieves that coun­cil is “oper­at­ing out of fear” that Cole­man will leave or that an open process would be in­sult­ing to him.

Sierer said she sup­ports Cole­man but voted no be­cause she she op­poses the process by which coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing him. She added that she feels that he has demon­strated his abil­ity to do the job and should not have to do a pre­sen­ta­tion to staff or some of the other re­quire­ments of the process.

“I firmly be­lieve Tom is a qual­i­fied can­di­date,” Sierer said. “As far as I’m con­cerned, if he’s in­ter­ested in the po­si­tion, I am in­ter­ested in hav­ing fur­ther dis­cus­sions with him.”

Sierer said coun­cil plans to move ahead “rather quickly,” but an ex­act timetable has not been made pub­lic.

Cole­man, who earned a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in civil en­gi­neer­ing from the Univer­sity of Delaware in 2004, first joined the city in May 2011 as as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of wa­ter and waste­water. In 2012, the Pub­lic Works and Wa­ter Re­sources Depart­ment was formed, and he served as deputy di­rec­tor for two years be­fore be­ing pro­moted to depart­ment di­rec­tor in March 2014. Prior to be­ing hired by the city, Cole­man worked for eight years at Karins and As­so­ciates, a Pike Creek en­gi­neer­ing firm.

In his time as act­ing city man­ager, Cole­man has suc­cess­fully shep­herded the pas­sage of the city’s first cap­i­tal ref­er­en­dum since 2001, helped over­see the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the stormwa­ter fee and led the city through two bud­get cy­cles.

Among his next tasks are fa­cil­i­tat­ing the com­ple­tion of the Rod­ney stormwa­ter pond and park and find­ing ways to im­prove em­ployee morale after a re­cent em­ployee sur­vey found di­vi­sions within city hall and mis­trust be­tween coun­cil and em­ploy­ees.

Cole­man him­self en­joys strong ap­proval from city em­ploy­ees, with 85 per­cent of sur­vey re­spon­dents say­ing they trust him.

NE­WARK POST PHOTO BY JOSH SHAN­NON

Act­ing City Man­ager Tom Cole­man is un­der con­sid­er­a­tion to take on the role per­ma­nently.

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