MATTHEWS – The Matthews Board of Commissioners convened Nov. 15 to talk with Stephen Straus, of Developmental Associates, about their expectations for the town manager search. 

Commissioners want to ensure they have someone in place by the time Hazen Blodgett retires in March. 

Strauss asked commissioners about the town’s biggest challenges and what qualities they’d like to see in the next manager. 

Mayor John Higdon would like to see someone who is fiscally responsible. 

“We have a lot of wants and a limited budget, so we’re going to need someone that’s very good at balancing the books and giving us good advice on where we should spend that money,” Higdon said. “I’m particularly concerned about our pay scale for our employees. We keep falling farther and farther behind and wondering how we’re going to make up that deficit with our budget.”

Higdon would also like the town to continue to maintain its service excellence. He said commissioners usually receive at least one email a month from someone bragging about a town staffer that went above and beyond the call of duty. 

Commissioner Ken McCool would like to see someone who works well with outside agencies like the N.C. Department of Transportation, who is familiar with the town’s development desires and who handles challenging times with a steady hand. 

Commissioner Larry Whitley would like to see the new manager put a priority on hiring a diverse staff, particularly in high-paying jobs, and on affordable housing. 

Commissioner John Urban believes one of the biggest challenges the new manager will face relates to property taxes and how they will be affected by the 2024 county revaluation. Aside from making salaries more competitive, the town has a list of capital improvement projects waiting to be funded, including a new fire station. 

Urban said the next manager must have good connections and the ability to network. 

While having a town manager with a planning background is a plus, Urban believes the hire has to have trust in a reliable planning board and staff to lay out information for the board to make clear decisions. Urban said they don’t want a micromanager but someone who can give staff the tools and resources to do a great job. 

Mayor Pro Tem Renee Garner would like to see someone aware of the values of Matthews and have some of those values within them.

Joining the board on the virtual call were newly elected commissioners Gina Hoover and Mark Tofano. 

Hoover would like to see someone that keeps an eye on the budget. Later in the meeting, she asked if it was necessary for the manager to have a car allowance.

Tofano would like to see a business-oriented manager that can entice CEOs to consider Matthews. He’d also like to see a  manager act as “a willing servant to the will of the board” without resistance from staff. 

Urban recalled how Blodgett asked him on his first day as a commissioner how he wanted to be treated. Urban didn’t want Blodgett to be a “yes man” and encouraged him to push back on ideas. 

Some of the commissioners expressed a preference for the new hire to arrive in time to get on-the-job training with Blodgett. Others worried how the timeline would affect their annual planning conference, scheduled for February. 

Commissioner Jeff Miller suggested  Assistant Manager Becky Hawke be promoted considering the board has two freshman and two sophomore commissioners this coming term. Hawke in tandem with board veterans can maintain consistency, he said. 

“I agree that Becky is a very strong candidate,” Higdon said. “I just think we want to see if there’s anyone else who might possibly be better, but I predict Becky will probably be one of our finalists. We’ll see.”

Straus assured the board the search is an objective process void of politics.

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