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Board to begin interviews for county administrator

By Alex Bridges

Shenandoah County leaders could pick a new government chief next month.

The national search received strong interest, Board of Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley said Monday. The county received 42 applications for the administrator position.

"I think that's a very good number," Helsley said.

Springsted Inc., the consulting firm hired to conduct the search, will present a list of 10-12 applicants to the board on Monday during a special meeting, part of which will be in closed session.

Helsley said the board plans to begin reviewing applications and he expects the board to narrow down the number of candidates to six. After the board conducts the first round of interviews, members likely will begin discussions of the salaries and benefits.

"Hopefully we can finish the process some time in August," Helsley said, adding later that the board wants to "move on as quickly as we can."

Helsley said the board would like to name a new administrator in the next 30-45 days.

The majority of applications came from candidates in Virginia, Helsley said. The board did not specify in the hiring process whether it would give greater weight to applicants with more knowledge of local government in Virginia.

"We're not requiring that," Helsley said. "Experience in county government is very valuable. As to where that experience comes from really isn't nearly as significant."

Supervisors began the search for a new county administrator after Douglas Walker left the position at the end of March. Walker is now an assistant administrator in Albemarle County. His short time leading Shenandoah County government has not prompted the board to seek out replacements who may plan to stay longer.

"I don't think that's one of the questions in our thought process," Helsley said. "We're just looking to get the most qualified and the best candidate for this position.

"You can never know how long they'll stay and sometimes they stay a long time and that's great," Helsley added. "I don't think we'll make our selection on how long we really feel somebody's going to be here."

Supervisors appointed longtime Assistant County Administrator Mary Beth Price to lead the government in an acting capacity as leaders searched for a permanent replacement. The county also hired Mason E. "Gene" Swearingen, former town manager of Haymarkey, to handle many of the assistant's responsibilities while she served as administrative chief.

Swearingen left the position on July 1 for a full-time job in Maryland, Helsley said. The county has not replaced Swearingen.

"That's why we're going to try to move as quickly as we can," Helsley said.

Asked whether Price submitted an application for the permanent position, Helsley said he "couldn't really comment."

The board may narrow the number of candidates from six to two and then conduct second interviews of the final two, Helsley said. The board held two interviews with Walker before selecting him to lead the county government.

"It lets you get a little better feeling for the applicants and also they get a better feeling for you," Helsley said. "So it's a two-way street."

Springsted's advertisement for the position with the Virginia Municipal League that ran through last month listed minimum requirements, including a bachelor's degree in business or public administration, planning, finance or related field, with a master's degree highly desirable. The advertisement also notes a minimum of five to eight years as a chief or deputy chief executive/administrator in a "high-performing" community of comparable size with a growing agricultural sector.

The salary for the position is negotiable up to $120,000 based on qualifications and experience, not including benefits.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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