Rockwood looks at administrator hopefuls

-A A +A
By Cindy Simpson

Three of the four people who interviewed for the Rockwood city administrator position have a Rockwood connection.

The position, originally the city recorder position under the recently retired Jim Hines, has been vacant only a short while.

At first, only a handful of applicants showed interest, including the four interviewed Monday night.
The locals included Wyatt Wilson, the son of former high school principal Leroy Wilson and the software supervisor for Roane County Schools; Sandra Pierce, a Rockwood High School math teacher with a background in industrial engineering who is married to public works director Tom Pierce; and Beth Howard, a Rockwood native with a degree in linguistics and varied work experience, including running her own business.

Michael Phillips, a South Carolina native with experience in public office, was interviewed first.
Phillips, who has been unemployed a short while, was most recently a city manager in a small town west of Savannah, Ga.

He was asked outright why he is no longer employed, which Phillips said he was obligated to speak little of.
“In my opinion, I did really well,” Phillips said.

He also said he had references, including former council members.

He did later elaborate that a city manager’s life in a community is often abbreviated, sometimes because of division between council members.

“Sometimes the city manager gets caught up in these things,” Phillips said.

He said he likes the opportunities to help that are present in small communities, and likes to help promote new ideas and think outside the box.

He said he believes it is his duty to inform the council about issues and give his thoughts.

“You won’t like all my recommendations,” Phillips said. “They’ll always be fair. They’ll always be items I checked.”

Phillips also said he is comfortable preparing a budget, from a couple million to $15 million.

The most enthusiastic of the night was Wilson, who said his love for his town would make him the best candidate.

“It is in my blood,” he said. “It would really be an honor to wake up every morning and go to work for somebody you really love.”

Mayor James Watts cheekily asked if he could even love “an old grump” like him.

Wilson described his dogged determination as a flaw, but said his strengths are attention to detail and organization.

“I’m very on task and well organized,” Wilson said.

Wilson has experience with budgeting, overseeing what he said was was $400,000 for software in the school system’s technology budget.

Pierce has been in the Rockwood area a little over three years, teaching previously at Farragut before meeting her husband.

“Just to be able to be involved in helping the city grow and on the business end and help all departments be better organized and function more efficiently,” she gave as reasons for wanting the job.

Pierce has no experience in municipal  oversight or in preparing a budget, but said she has worked with budgets through her management experience elsewhere.

She also said she has grant-writing experience through her work in education.

Pierce said she has managed about 1,200 people through the temp agency she worked for, but this included the employees who were sent to different companies through the agency.

Pierce said she is particularly confident about her ability to handle projects.

“You need to get financed; you have to know which people go where. Vendors need to be processed,” Pierce said.

Beth Howard came back to Rockwood in 1984 and has experience in business management, including former chief operating officer of Blue Ribbon Homes.

She also said since 2008 she manages investments.

She’s now an adviser for partners of real estate limited liability corporations.

“It is a beautiful city. I think it has a lot of potential for future growth. It would be an opportunity for me to come back to my community and stay here,” Howard said.

She said she has no qualms firing personnel who had not fulfilled their duties, particularly if they had been given opportunities to improve.

She also believes that management needs to work with every employee individually.

“I think anyone managing people have to understand everyone is different,” she said.

“I’m not a real spontaneous thinker,” Howard said when asked about her weaknesses. “I analyze and do better when I can stand back from a situation and think it through.”

She said her strength is her diversity, including her human resource experience.

Howard expressed a willingness to learn the building inspector duties.

With more applicants being received since the initial interviews were scheduled, Watts asked that Council members Bill Thompson, Jason Jolly and Jane Long look at the remaining applicants and select five to be interviewed.

If after those interviews a person is not selected, further interviews with remaining applicants may follow.

The committee will be meeting at the Rockwood City Hall on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m.