Local News

Wake County faces competition in attracting new manager

Posted August 19, 2013 5:33 p.m. EDT
Updated August 19, 2013 7:24 p.m. EDT

— Wake County commissioners on Monday agreed to hire a search firm to find a replacement for longtime County Manager David Cooke, but said similar job vacancies across the area could up the ante for attracting the best candidate.

Cooke plans to retire at the end of November, and the commission hopes to have a new manager in place by February or March of 2014. 

But Durham, Orange and Mecklenburg counties are also seeking new managers, as is the City of Raleigh.

Wake County is one of the fastest growing areas in the country, and county commission Chairman Joe Bryan said its fiscal health and lack of controversy will give it an edge in attracting the best candidate.

"We will stand out," Bryan said. "It's a very solid environment for a manager to come into."

But David McLennon, professor of political science at William Peace University, said the high-profile positions have become increasingly political in recent years, which may have played some role in the recent resignations.

"They used to be primarily administrative. You wouldn't hear much of the city or county manager," McLennon said. "Now you see in news reports – they're having conflict with their board, city council, county commissioners."

He said the job requires someone who can oversee massive budgets, manage hundreds of employees and direct services to thousands of residents. In other words, the candidate pool is finite.

"These are not just mid-level people. These are people who have run cities before, so there are very few of those that could fit in one of these positions," McLennon said. "So, it’s going to be very competitive. The county may compete against the city for the same type of person." 

But Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the competition could be a boon to the search for a city manager. Someone looking at the county manager position might also see the city's opening and apply, increasing the overall candidate pool, she said.

The simultaneous searches could also drive up salaries.

"That’s one thing I was a little concerned about," said Bryan. "It will depend on what our peers are doing – what’s Raleigh doing? What’s Mecklenburg County doing? That could create some pressure on salaries."

County Commissioner Paul Coble, however, said he wasn't worried about finding the right fit for Wake.

"You're talking about a nationwide search and a lot of people who will be qualified," he said. "I think we'll have a good slate of candidates to choose from."