By Heather Mullinix and Jim Young
Chronicle assistant editor & correspondent
Late Wednesday, word came from Crossville human resources coordinator Sandy Gruber that interim city manager Jack Miller had requested his name be removed from consideration for the full-time city manager position leaving six candidates for the council to choose from.
The council had interviewed five of the six finalists as of Monday evening, with the final interview and a special-called meeting to discuss the city manager selection set for 7 p.m. last night. Interviews have been held with candidates Carlo Pilgrim of Maine; Steve Goodwin, a Crossville native; Jeffery Skidmore, currently a Crossville resident who left city administrator position in Florida earlier this year; Aaron Elmore, Crossville native and resident; and Scott Collins from Newport, currently serving as manager of Fayettville. The final interview scheduled for Thursday evening was with David Rutherford, manager of McMinnville. The information is presented in the order the interviews were held.
Pilgrim has about 20 years experience as a town administrator, serving Boothbay, ME, from 1993 to 2000 and Boothbay Harbor, ME, from 2001 to 2007. He also served Newport, ME, from 1987 to 1992 and was city manager for Holbrook, AZ, from 2008 to 2009. In those years, he managed operating budgets in excess of $15 million and found savings for public funds. He oversaw a staff of about 80 employees in Holbrook and supervised eight department heads. His experience includes downtown revitalization projects, department restructuring and labor dispute and contract negotiations. He also served in the U.S. Navy, where he received the Navy Commendation Medal for Meritorious Service. He supervised more than 200 civilian and military personnel and worked in human resources for a fleet. Since leaving Holbrook in 2009, he has been involved with researching a book, caring for his mother who has since passed and working with his brother to start a consulting business that assists start-ups and businesses with financial strategy, product development and marketing. He said he believes he can provide structure to the city's operations to improve it and "pull the best out of people, communicate and inspire vision." He was asked about his thoughts regarding the "chain of command" for the council and city manager. Pilgrim said he saw the manager's job as representing the council to the community and employees and implementing the council's policies and directions. "I believe in being frank, honest and transparent," Pilgrim said. "You need that. To do your job, you've got to let me do my job." Pilgrim said it was likely he and the council would have differences but, "When the gavel hits the table, I will cheerfully follow direction and move on with flexibility, understanding and caring." Marlow noted Pilgrim had left his position in Holbrook due to problems with its city council. Pilgrim termed the situation "intolerable interference by two council members, which I found humiliating and threatening toward employees." "We probably have one of the most difficult council teams here," Marlow said. "Do you think you could work through this or do you think it would be a problem here, also?" Pilgrim said, "Problems that I find difficult to deal with are those of character and integrity. I believe we can work together. I look forward to that challenge." He noted he tolerated the situation in Arizona for 16 months before resigning and returning to Maine. "Can you imagine councilmen humiliating and threatening employees with their jobs," Pilgrim said. "I wanted things to work. I always want what's best for the community. In this particular case, I couldn't bear fruit. "But I look forward to this opportunity to serve your great city, and I will make you proud." Pilgrim noted he wanted to support the council and support the employees. He said if there were concerns of council members regarding employees, those comments needed to be taken to him.
Goodwin grew up in Crossville, with his first job calling on him to audit the city of Crossville's financial statements while working as a CPA for Lansford, Green and Associates. His career since then has taken him around the world, working with world aid organizations managing budgets reaching into the millions of dollars, overseeing large-scale projects and balancing delicate local politics. As director of the Employment Creation Project for the Pan American Development Foundation, he directed a $68 million multi-donor grant in Haiti, working with a government so corrupt aid funds could only be used in the country by the organization he worked for. "I was there to get the job done," Goodwin told the council. "I tried to be accommodating, but never cross the line." He said he saw the city manager's job as implementing the decisions of the council, overseeing the city employees and making sure goals are accomplished. In the event of budget shortfalls, Goodwin said he believed in managing finances enough in advance so that, should there be a shortfall, solutions other than a tax increase are available. As a manager, he noted he looked to hire the best people he could, particularly in technical fields, and rely on them to do their job with clear communication and follow up on directions and then relying on their expertise. Growing up in Crossville, Goodwin said he did have roots in the area and that could lead to individuals seeking favors from him as city manager. He noted his father had served as game warden for the area and provided him a strong example of not allowing friends to be excused from the rules. "I hope I have those kinds of values," he said after relating his father had arrested friends and family members for violating the law. When asked how he would deal with council members circumventing the chain of command with city employees, Goodwin noted that was a problem for the council. "I believe in full disclosure and it would come back to the council," Goodwin said. "But things shouldn't be dictated down that have not been approved by the council." To be successful in Crossville, Goodwin said he would rely on open communication, honesty and being fair; working to manage the budget; and planning ahead. He said his management style was that of a team player and supportive of those he worked with. However, he said he expected work to completed and that he took responsibility for that work. Souza said the city had a "poor record" in retaining city managers and asked Goodwin to comment. Goodwin said, "I knew that when I applied. Politics can be difficult." He said he had experience dealing with politics, managing projects and believed in being fair, honest and up front.
Skidmore was a finalist for the city manager position during the last manager search and has spent his working life in Florida. Skidmore explained that several years ago he and wife started looking for a place to eventually retire and discovered Crossville on the web. After several visits, he and his wife found property they bought and while he continued to work they would come to Crossville as often as possible.
Skidmore explained he and his wife decided late last year they wanted to move to Crossville permanently and, in February, he resigned and came to Crossville. He added that when he moved to Crossville, he had no idea that a short time later Bruce Wyatt would resign.
Skidmore told the council he served as assistant city manager, chief operating officer for Weston, FL, a town of 65,000 people with a budget of more than $100 million annually. When asked about his leadership style, Skidmore described himself as a “problem solver” and someone who “leads by example.”
Discussing economic development, Skidmore told the council he felt the downtown project was a step in the right direction. He added that it could help with recruitment of business and industry, adding, “You are on the right track.”
Skidmore discussed how he saw the city operation, describing it as an hour glass shape with citizens at the top, the council next and the city manager at the narrowest part. Below the narrow part was city department heads and then city employees. He explained that information and directions should not pass back and forth through the narrow part without going through him.
When asked why the council should hire him, Skidmore answered his 35 years of experience, starting at an entry-level position and working his way up. He said that Weston was a very respected city, ranked highly. He said he had much experience with capital improvements.
He also pointed out that he had only two employers in his career and he would be at Crossville for the long haul.
CElmore was interviewed next. Elmore is the son of the late Sheriff Dale Elmore and the son-in-law of councilman George Marlow. Elmore said his family's appreciation for the community inspired his interest in community service. EHe received an accounting degree from Tennessee Tech in Cookeville and went to work for the IRS in Nashville after graduation. Elmore explained that, after their first child was born, he and his wife decided they wanted to move back to Crossville to raise their children. He worked for Farm Bureau Insurance after he left the IRS and later took a job with TAP Publishing, where he currently works. He has been involved in several non-profits including the Homestead Tower Association and Kids on the Rise.
Elmore said he felt his success in his career so far was based on his attitude and work ethic. He said he had recently read Pat Summit's book “Sum It Up” and loved a quote in it, “Attitude, not aptitude determines your altitude.” Elmore continued that he played baseball as a good athlete, not a great athlete, but he was able to sign a division 1 scholarship was because of his attitude and work ethic. He added that in his career, he may not be the smartest person in the building, but that his attitude and work ethic stand out.
Elmore called the city's downtown improvement project “exciting.”
Elmore said the reason he should be hired is that he has a genuine passion for Crossville. He noticed that the managers hired have been very experienced but near retirement age and they only stayed no more than 2 years.
“I understand the traditional thing to do is to hire somebody that's got a résumé full of experience,” added Elmore, “but I feel the employees want stability. That's what I've heard and I'm not going anywhere. I applied because I thought you guys might feel the same way. If you take a chance on me, I'm not going to let you down.”
Elmore summed up his interview saying, “I think its ironic that the last question was why should Crossville hire you when I've been asked for the last six weeks more than anything else is why in the world would you leave Trade A Plane and walk into a hornet's nest? And my answer is, my passion for Crossville and I'm not afraid of hornets.”
The final interview Monday night was with Scott Collins, currently manager for Fayetteville and, prior to that, the manager for Newport. Collins was elected to the council of his hometown of Caryville in 1982 at age 19 and later became mayor at Caryville at the age of 22. After completing college, Collins again ran for mayor of Caryville and served several additional terms.
In 1999, he became the city administrator of Oliver Springs near Oak Ridge and stayed there until 2004 when he was hired as city administrator for LaFollette. After leaving the job at Lafollette, he worked for a time as a district executive for the Boy Scouts of America and, in 2008, became the city administrator of Newport, where he served until early 2013.
Asked about his strongest personal assets, Collins responded, “The ability to motivate, for good alliances, and teamwork. I'm a firm believer that we can't get anything done if we're pulling in different directions. My job would be to make sure we all get on the same page and reach that goal.”
Collins said he had recently stopped by Crossville and walked up and down Main Street and he told the council that Crossville had great potential. He said he saw the Palace and the library and added, “There is so much on this little stretch.”
Collins said he loved downtowns and had worked to improve Newport's downtown with a river walk and other projects. He said Crossville's downtown revitalization plan was a brilliant move because "it is investing in your downtown. Downtown is as critical as golf courses, lakes and spec buildings."
Asked why the council should hire him, Collins said, “I believe I can bring a strong sense of optimism and I can bring several years of experience from the seats you sit in there to the seat of city administrator. One thing that keeps me going is I love municipal work. I love seeing, discussing an idea and we all work together to make it happen and then the people reap the benefits of it.”