Herndon staff and officials are reviewing a number of applicants and options for two of the town’s most prominent staff positions ahead of a hiring process that will ultimately impact how the town will be managed over the course of the next several years.
Town elected officials and staff are hoping to see Herndon’s town manager and director of community development positions named within six months.
The town manager position has been filled by former Department of Parks and Recreation head Art Anselene since March after the departure of four-year town manager Steve Owen. Senior planner Lisa Gilleran has occupied the director of Herndon’s Department of Community Development since the retirement of Henry Bibber last month.
The two positions are "critical" roles for the procedural management of the town, according to Herndon human resources director Linda Simmons.
"Community development plays a very large role in several decisions into zoning and planning and how the town will look in the future," said Simmons. "And of course you have the town manager who is the leader of the staff, so these are very important positions in the town."
The new director of the Department of Community Development, one of five department heads, will be recruited by staff search processes and hired by the town manager after a panel review conducted by several department heads, according to Simmons. Herndon’s mayor and Town Council will vote on whether to hire a staff member internally or review a pool of candidates with staff and professional assistance to fill the town manager position, she added.
The last department head to be hired was public works director Bob Boxer in May 2003.
THE PROCESS for finding a new community development director is already under way.
The town has received more than 30 applicants for the director of community development position. A nationwide job announcement through several professional organizations ended last month, according to Simmons.
"We wanted to go out nationally with this and we wanted to look at as wide an audience as possible in making this decision," she said. "We’re looking for someone who has experience in municipal government and someone with experiences handling some of the issues that we have coming up."
Those issues include development and traffic management associated with the expansion of the MetroRail to the town’s southern borders and partnerships with contractors for Herndon’s downtown redevelopment aspirations, she said. The new director would also be responsible for drafting the town’s 20-year comprehensive plan, a set of guidelines that the town will use to determine how development should look over the next two decades.
Town staff will review the applicants for the position and narrow down the possibilities to "probably" a half-dozen candidates for interviews later this month, according to Simmons. From that pool, the top two will be chosen for a second round of panel interviews before the new director of community development is named, potentially to start as soon as Oct. 1.
Simmons would not comment on whether Gilleran was being considered for the permanent position.
THE TOWN COUNCIL is set to review personnel matters, which may include discussion about the search process for a permanent town manager at a closed meeting before a Sept. 4 work session, according to Simmons.
"Once the Town Council knows where they will be going with this process, then I can take the ball from there," she said, referring to developing a pool of candidates if the council wants to expand their search for a permanent town manager.
A decision on a process to designate a permanent town manager should be made quickly, as nearly six months will have passed since Owens departure by September, council member Bill Tirrell said.
"I’m an advocate of going out and seeing who is out there in making this decision," said Tirrell, adding that he has been impressed with Anselene’s work as interim town manager. "No matter what we choose, we as a council have to make a decision that we are sticking with and take an action. This process will presumably take three to six months, and I don’t think we want this going on to the next calendar year."
Anselene refused to comment on whether he would be seeking the permanent position. Mayor Steve DeBenedittis did not respond to phone requests for comment.
WHILE COUNCIL member Connie Hutchinson said that she has yet to give any serious consideration to the criteria that she will use to evaluate town manager candidates, the permanent position should go to someone with a wide range of knowledge in managing a municipal government.
"I think Herndon has a pretty clear record that the unexpected should be expected," she said. "I think anyone who knows the town knows that at any moment we could face a myriad of different issues, so [we need] someone who is prepared to handle that."
A flexibility to adapt to the desires of a town council that could change as a result of two-year elections should also be viewed as preferential, according to Tirrell.
"The town manager will have to be a chameleon, so to speak, to be able to understand the different town councils and be able to go with the flow of a particular council," he said. "He or she will have to have that knack and understanding of the position to address those issues … and the shifting desires of the council."
The decision to hire a permanent town manager will need to be made very carefully, as it will likely reflect in the future of the town, said council member Charlie Waddell.
"It’s not just one year, two years, four or five years, we’re looking at a management level into the far future," Waddell said. "And we need the right key players to get us to where we need to go."