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Macon on the prowl for a new county manager

Macon County closed the application window last week and will soon begin paring down applicants in search of its next county manager.


Current County Manager Jack Horton announced his retirement in July, after more than six years with the county on this instance, and more than three decades working in public service for governments in the region. Horton took his first governmental post in the mid-1970s in Swain County and worked previously as Macon County’s manager from 1985 to 1991 before taking the same post in Haywood County.

As of the application deadline last week, Macon County commissioners had received nearly 40 submissions from job-seekers looking to fill Horton’s shoes. They came in from as far away as California, Texas, New York and a mix of neighboring states. Only a handful of applications were submitted by Western North Carolinians.

The next step for commissioners will be selecting a half-dozen or so candidates for interviews, said County Commissioner Ronnie Beale. But no hard and fast selection date has been set.

“We’ll just have to see how the search goes,” Beale said. “You can’t say we’ll have one by the end of the month. This is a process you certainly don’t want to rush.”

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Beale likened the selection process to searching for a CEO for a major corporation, one with more than 300 employees. The job was advertised locally, statewide and nationally. The starting pay is negotiable; Horton began in 2007 with an annual salary of  $125,000. He is retiring with a salary of $135,000.

Horton’s official retirement date is Sept. 31, at which point County Human Resources Director Mike Decker will step in as county manager on an interim basis. If no candidate is in place by November, Horton has agreed to return for a limited time and help run the county’s operations on a contract basis.

“I’m sure if we needed Jack, I think he’d be willing to help us anyway he could,” Beale said. “He has said he would certainly help us on a temporary basis.”

A cautious timeline would put a new county manager behind their new desk in Macon County by December or January, said Commission Chairman Kevin Corbin. Most of the applicants already have a job elsewhere and would need to give adequate notice before changing jobs, Corbin said. So if the county selects and interviews candidates in October and November, a start date still be a month or more after a selection is made.

“It’s going to depend on the person we ultimately choose,” Corbin said. “Most already have jobs.”

Commissioners will meet in coming weeks to winnow down the list and pick who to bring in for interviews, Corbin said. The final candidate to fill the county manager position will be chosen by a majority vote of the county commissioners.

Corbin said he is leaning toward selecting a person with a lot of experience, calling a previous stint as county manager “a plus.” He would also like to select someone who can grasp the local government and the small mountain county’s residents.

“We’re looking for someone who would have the ability to understand our local folks and local government,” Corbin said.

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