Newark’s next city manager?
Council to consider Coleman for permanent role
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.
Acting City Manager Tom Coleman is under consideration to take on the role permanently.