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City joins list of those in need of managers

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Jim O’Connor

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O'Connor announced plan to resign Tuesday, accepting similar position in Florida

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The city will again join a growing number of localities in need of a new manager -- for the third time in several years.

Turnover at the highest level continues to impact localities across the country, according to an association for town and city managers and county administrators. The group also sees a potential problem in the future as the pool of qualified candidates shrinks with the retirement of baby boomers.

"It kinda ebbs and flows," Lynchburg City Manager L. Kimball Payne III said in a recent interview. "You'll see some communities that tend to move through managers fairly quickly."

Winchester City Manager Jim O'Connor announced Tuesday his plans to leave the position July 23 for a similar job in Vero Beach, Fla. O'Connor will have led the city's general government for 16 months -- two months shy of his predecessor, J. Brannon Godfrey Jr., who stepped down after 18 months. Godfrey received as severance the remainder of his salary for the contract year.

In January 2008, Godfrey replaced longtime City Manager Edwin Daley, who served more than 20 years before moving to the same position in Hopewell.

Payne, also the president of the Virginia Local Government Management Association, said city managers nationwide stay on average four to five years in one place before moving on to a new locality. City managers may stay at jobs in Virginia for longer on average, said Payne, who has worked in Lynchburg for 10 years and 14 years in Charlottesville.

Some localities have retained government managers for long periods. Payne cited Daley and current Frederick County Administrator John R. Riley Jr. as long-standing leaders.

The elected boards face the challenge of finding the right person for the job, especially when having to replace someone who held the position for a long time, Payne said.

"Sometimes communities hire a person who's the opposite of the person who's been there a long time, then find that they really kinda liked what that [previous] person brought rather than the strengths that they hired [the new choice] for that were different," Payne added.

The state and international association worries about how governments can find leaders in the future.

"The challenge that the profession is facing now is that there are a lot of John Rileys out there who are in their probably late 50s, early 60s, who have been doing this for close to 30 years and aren't gonna do it, certainly not for 30 more, maybe not even for five or 10 more," Payne said. "So there's a significant amount of just aging out.

"Retirement has been occurring certainly in my generation, and it's one of the issues that our organization ... are concerned about," Payne added. "It's kind of like the next
generation in the profession -- how do we work to bring young folks into this?"

The association offers a certificate program at Virginia Tech that gives people aspiring to work in local government some background in the field, according to Payne.

"With all the potential vacancies, as the baby boomers age out, how do we get the youth in here, let them know this is good work," Payne said. "They're gonna find a fulfilling life in it. They may not get paid what they would in the private sector, but it still has its rewards."

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