FRONT ROYAL — Five months after approving a $24,500 contract with executive search firm Baker Tilly, the process to find a town manager is ongoing.
Matt Tederick filled the position on an interim basis upon Joe Waltz’s November resignation.
The Town Council recently conducted two in-person interviews and opted against hiring either candidate.
Council members Jake Meza and Letasha Thompson disagree whether those individuals were supposed to be the final “top two” candidates.
Thompson explained via telephone that 49 candidates were whittled into nine, which became the “final two” after remote interviews. She said she “was very excited” about one candidate.
Meza said via telephone that “to say that we narrowed it down to a final two I don’t think is necessarily accurate.” He said there were about 10 candidates who council members thought “might be good,” which is a difficult determination to make “on paper” and through video interviews.
Vice Mayor William Sealock said one young candidate “was very acceptable,” saying that individual works in a smaller town with a budget of about $10 million and 20 employees.
“He would have had to be counseled and supported more than some other candidate. I liked him, I liked him a lot,” Sealock said.
Thompson explained “some people had some reservations” about the candidate she liked “and I didn’t hold those same reservations.” Although the concerns were valid, she said “it’s something that could be worked through.”
She noted that the town’s contract with Baker Tilly guarantees two years of employment from the selected candidate. If the candidate is fired in that time frame, she said the search would resume without additional charges. Instead, she said the town decided to “just blow it all up and start over.”
Meza disagreed over the assessment that the process is back to square one, noting that the beginning of the search coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak and preparation of fiscal year budgets. He said Baker Tilly is optimistic people did not apply due to that timing and expressed optimism that “it’s going to move faster than we think and that we’re not going to have to start all over.”
Sealock and Thompson both said they are not satisfied with the timeline of the search. She said “I am so frustrated” and it is “ridiculous” that the town must return to the “drawing board.”
Thompson pondered whether council members who “automatically had some reservations” about a candidate will have those same reservations “in six months or however long.” She added that perhaps some “new, fresh eyes” may change the situation.
Come November, three council seats are available in the election.
“I think other people who would be in the same position would have probably come to the same conclusion as I did: this guy is good to go. Our only reservation is ‘x’, we can work through that,” Thompson said.
Meza said the town simply has not found the proper candidate.
Citing the EDA scandal, COVID-19, tourism issues and staff turnaround, Meza said the town wants someone with the experience to handle those issues. He said the candidate must also be qualified to manage the town’s enterprise fund and utilities while having an economic development and tourism-related background.
“So, for lack of better words, we’re looking for somebody very specific,” Meza said. “We feel like that candidate is out there, we just haven’t reached a consensus on which of the ones that we’ve interviewed would actually be able to meet all of those criteria checkpoints.”
Meza said all council members are aware of the issues over the past year and “it’s putting a little bit more pressure on us to make sure that we’re doing complete due diligence.”
With certain struggles facing Waltz’s successor, Meza said one reason to hire an interim manager is ensuring those issues were solved to “set up the next town manager for success.”
“The new town manager gets to come on board with all of those things behind…pick up the torch and take off running,” he said.
Thompson, Meza and Sealock dispelled rumors that Tederick will assume the role permanently.
With all of the resources spent on the search, Thompson said Tederick should not become the town manager. Still, she questioned why a decision was not reached after an in-depth search process.
Meza said he has “not heard any conversation” around the possibility of permanently hiring Tederick.
“I know that there are some citizens who’ve made that comment. It has not been discussed with Town Council. It has not been discussed with Matt…there’s been zero indications that Matt would become the town manager,” he said.
Meza added that Tederick “has done a pretty darn good job” and has accomplished the Town Council’s goals.
“He has done everything that we’ve asked. He has not done anything in secret. He has not done anything that we’ve been surprised by. We have not had to have consultations with him about poor performance. He’s made us aware of any and all issues,” Meza said.
Sealock agreed, saying Tederick has been an “exceptional manager.”
While Sealock said he would hire Tederick if he applied, there is “no way that will happen.”
“Matt Tederick does not want the job. He has stated that to me time after time…He did not apply, he will not apply,” Sealock said.
Thompson gave Tederick a mixed review, saying his performance has included positives and negatives.
Tederick reiterated via telephone previously expressed sentiments that he does not want the job.
“I have a high level of confidence that if I had applied early on I would have been a top contender if I wanted the permanent job. I’ve said it publicly, I’ve said it privately, I’ve been approached by citizens, I’ve been approached by council members to see if I would consider being the permanent manager. And the answer is no. I’m true to my word. I’m doing this out of a sense of duty for my community and it’s hard for some people to grasp,” Tederick said.