Douglas Watson, a former city manager of Auburn and public affairs professor, has begun working with the city as a consultant, starting with the city manager search.
The City Council voted 3-2 last month to hire Watson as a consultant to help fulfill the city’s “basic objectives and policies.” Councilmen David Reddick and Jay Jenkins voted against the measure.
Per the contract, the city will pay Watson $1,000 each month for a year and compensate him for necessary mileage at 50 cents per mile. After a year, the contract can be extended by a written agreement, and either the city or Watson can terminate the contract with 30 days’ written notice.
Despite Jenkins’ initial concerns that the contract didn’t spell out Watson’s duties clearly enough, Jenkins said Wednesday that the city’s new consultant is already earning his keep. He said Watson has been looking over the resumes received by the city and offering his advice and perspective on potential candidates.
Calling Watson “the Nick Saban of city managers,” Councilman Seyram Selase said Watson has proven to be a self-starter.
“He’s already taking the initiative in letting us know things we need to know, especially in regard to the search,” he said.
Reddick said he likes that the council is conducting a nationwide search. “My goal is to bring in someone that is totally unbiased, who can come into the city and help make choices with a clean slate,” he said.
Councilwoman Millie Harris said the council wants someone with energy and enthusiasm — qualities that often come with youth — but also with plenty of experience running a city government. “It will be tough to find a happy balance,” she said, adding that she hopes Watson’s long career as a city manager will enable him to look through the resumes and read between the lines to find the best candidates.
Watson, who lives in Auburn, spent 30 years as a city manager, the last 21 with the city of Auburn before he retired in 2003. After retiring, he spent about seven years as a professor in the public affairs program at the University of Texas at Dallas before returning to Alabama. Watson said he’s written or edited nine books and about 50 articles. Both Watson and Mayor Vaughn Stewart said the consultant’s next steps with the city will include planning new economic development initiatives.
Last month, council members decided to extend the deadline for city manager applications and raise the salary cap from $120,000 to $150,000 to broaden the search and attract more experienced applicants.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the city had received 67 applications for the position, 26 of those since the city opted to extend the deadline and bump up the salary cap.
Selase said he’s pleased with the expanded applicant pool and expects the council to proceed with the search after the application deadline passes at the end of next week.
Stewart said he would like to see the council narrow its pool of applicants to between five and 10 by the end of July and begin interviews — via online video chat and then in person for the final few applicants — in August.
He said he would like to have someone in place by Sept. 1, the first day of city manager Don Hoyt’s retirement.
However, he added, “If we run a little past that, it’s not the end of the world.”
Staff writer Paige Rentz: 256-235-3564. On Twitter @PRentz_Star.