City Utilities General Manager Kelly Cornwell recently announced plans to retire in March; he has been employed with the city for 33 years, 20 of those as utilities general manager.
“What he has meant to the City of Calhoun and City of Calhoun utilities, we cannot say enough concerning that,” Mayor Jimmy Palmer said.
Council Member David Hammond credited Cornwell with masterminding the infrastructure plans that have left Calhoun with plentiful water and far-reaching utilities services. He pointed out that Calhoun is fortunate to have an abundance of natural resources, but that they have been utilized comprehensively under Cornwell’s direction.
“As I travel through the district, we’re unequaled and the envy of most places,” Hammond said.
During Monday night’s regular meeting, the council moved to use the services of Tom Berry of Thomasville, Ga–based Underwood and Co. in finding a qualified candidate to replace Cornwell.
Palmer put the decision to a vote, gaining a motion from George Crowley and a second from Al Edwards. Hammond, along with Matt Barton, voted against the measure, however, and the mayor broke the tie in favor of Underwood and Co.
Berry has served as interim city manager in several cities and also as a city utilities director, Palmer said. Cornwell recommended Berry’s services during a previous work session, saying he has served with Berry in the past on the MEAG (Municipal Energy Association of Georgia) board of directors.
The discussion behind the vote
The consultant will help the city narrow down the field of candidates to the most qualified group of individuals, the mayor explained. The consulting agency, he said, will meet with the council before beginning the search process to get a better feel for the city’s candidate needs and again several times during the search process.
The position will be advertised in several places, including trade magazines.
It’s essential, Palmer said, to “replace Kelly with the qualified person … as knowledgeable of the utilities business as Kelly as been.”
“What I like (about hiring Underwood and Co.) is that it involves the council,” he said.
Both Hammond and Edwards said the cost concerns them; Underwood’s minimum charge is $25,000. It is unlikely, the mayor said, that the charges will extend beyond that estimate, although the city may choose to foot expenses for candidates who return from out of town for second interviews.
Hammond suggested during Monday’s work session that the council members either plan on making the decision themselves without a consultant or compare prices of a few different consultants before deciding on one. Edwards reiterated, however, that the city is working on a deadline and there will need to be someone in place when Cornwell leaves.
Crowley said, based on his experience as a city school board member charged with selecting a new superintendent several years ago, spending money on a consultant is more beneficial in the long run than “to try to skimp on the pennies.”
“I never felt that the school board had the expertise” to make a selection themselves, he explained. “Just my past experience tells me that this is probably the way to go.”
Hammond called the impending changing of the guard a “unique opportunity” to examine the city’s “staffing pyramid.” He suggested possibly revamping the city’s management hierarchy by not hiring another utilities general manager and instead putting in place a city manager to oversee the utilities sector, as well as general government.
The main thing to look for in a candidate for such a position, he said is an ability to manage people well.
Crowley countered this thought process, however, stating that it is necessary to have a person in place to oversee the entire utilities department who is an expert in that field and well-versed in its intricacies.