On Wednesday, the City Council held a special work session to discuss candidates for the city manager position. City Manager Jim Buston will continue to serve Auburn until he retires on Jan. 31.
“This is one of the most important decisions we can make as elected officials in the City of Auburn,” Anders said. “It is of my opinion that [the next city manager should be] Megan McGowen Crouch.”
The internal candidate is the current assistant city manager, Anders said. Megan Crouch has references from nonprofits and three former mayors. Crouch has experience with the community and holds the qualifications to be city manager.
Anders proposed that the Council add a resolution to the next City Council meeting appointing Megan Crouch to the city manager position starting Feb. 1.
The Council voted to add the resolution in a 7-2 vote. Ward 2 Council member Kelley Griswold and Ward 1 Council member Connie Fitch-Taylor voted in opposition.
“The city manager’s position is one of the most important positions in the City of Auburn,” said Mayor Ron Anders. “Hopefully, the next city manager will understand the qualities that make Auburn … such a great place to live.”
Sign up for our newsletter
Get The Plainsman straight to your inbox.
Auburn needs a city manager who can communicate with all members of the community and with City staff, Anders said. They need to appreciate the City’s tax dollars, spending money wisely and conservatively.
“We have an internal candidate with a career path that shows that they’re ready [to become the next city manager],” Anders said.
Fitch-Taylor asked if other applications have been received. She did not state opposition to the internal candidate, instead citing a fair process, wanting to consider all qualified applications.
Buston said that many assistant department heads are groomed to take the department head position once the opportunity arises. Selection for the position must be made on merit.
The city manager position is the only employee of the City of Auburn that is contractual, Buston said. Every other City hire must be approved by the city manager. There is no requirement for the Council to look externally for a candidate, unlike typical requirements of the City providing a notice that a position is open.
“We have not put this out as a [position] opening anywhere except to the City Council,” Buston said.
Ward 6 Council member Bob Parsons stated he declined to meet with Crouch prior to the meeting in the interest of fairness to any potential candidate.
“I am very comfortable with the idea of [Crouch] as the city manager,” Parsons said. “She is a good fit … I am fearful that an internal hire without any other candidate has the optics that couly make the public cynical for how we arrived there. In this case, having worked with Mrs. McGowen Crouch, she has been excellent.”
Ward 4 Council member Brett Smith asked how important it is for a candidate to already work in the City.
“A successful city manager has a relationship with the community,” Buston said. “The first couple of years with a new city manager [are spent] getting to know the community. In our particular community, I believe it is imperative, because of uniqueness of this community, someone that is internal is by far and away going to be more successful, bar none, than someone coming in from the outside.”
Buston believes the culture and relationship with the University combines to create a difficult City to manage. After speaking with city managers who left to work for other cities, Buston was told that Auburn is a unique city that is more difficult to learn than other cities.
Crouch currently works close with Buston and is familiar with the city manager’s work, Buston said. Buston appointed Crouch to the assistant city manager and she has met all expectations set for her.
Smith noticed that Crouch could be the first female city manager for Auburn. He believes she can be an inspiration to young girls on what they can achieve.
“None of my department heads have come to me [after announcing my retirement] that they were interested in my job,” Buston said. “Not that that is an indicator of interest, but I can say that none of them came to me.”
Buston sent a letter announcing his retirement to the Council and all department heads on Oct. 1.
Ward 7 Council member Jay Hovey said that the last nationwide city manager search was in 2017, which resulted in five candidates that did not stand out. He believes another external search could have the same results.
Ward 3 Council member Beth Witten stated that the search in 2017 started due to an internal candidate having only some of the 25 qualifications considered for the city manager position and Crouch fills them all, Witten said. Witten believes Crouch would have a minimal learning curve and is possibly overqualified for the position.
“I fully support Megan for the next city manager,” said Ward 8 Council member Tommy Dawson. “I didn’t need to meet Megan because I’ve [seen her work for the City] for the past 20 years.”
Dawson spoke with former department heads, who said the City could not do any better than Crouch for the position. Crouch did an excellent job in economic development, Dawson said.
Griswold said he wants the opportunity for candidates to apply for the position. He believes the City’s human resources department would be able to hold a limited search for candidates that would not cost as much as the search in 2017.
Megan began with the City on an internship and has served the City for 23 years, Anders said. She competes for the city manager job every day she comes to work.
Dawson said he became the City’s police chief by rising through the organization, much like Crouch has.
Anders said he wants to add an annual review to the next city manager contract. The city manager’s metrics would be assessed by the Council around the time of the annual budget assessment.
Anders also said that the mayor should negotiate the contract for the city manager, but the Council should approve the contract. When Buston was hired, the mayor negotiated the contract and did not require the Council’s approval.
Do you like this story? The Plainsman doesn't accept money from tuition or student fees, and we don't charge a subscription fee. But you can donate to support The Plainsman.Support The Plainsman