In what ranks as the biggest surprise since the sun rose in the east this morning, the Robeson County Board of Commissioners, having reasoned that a 19-month audition was sufficient, decided on Monday to hire Ricky Harris as the county manager, ending his tenure as an interim.
The timing is interesting as the commissioners might want to change the subject from their decision to dump a 13-year provider of non-emergency ambulance services in favor of MED1, a Georgia company whose finances appear shaky — and whose hiring has raised questions the commissioners won’t answer and want to go away. The commissioners are also a month removed from an election, and only one commissioner faces a challenger in November, so now is a good time to make a decision that will be criticized as politics as usual in Robeson County. We in Robeson County like to moan about our elected officials, before and after we re-elect them.
One thing is for sure: The process stinks.
It wasn’t that long ago that a consultant hired by the school board when it was launching a search for the superintendent advised its members not to fake a search. The board was told that if it had a guy or gal in mind, hire that person without delay. Of course, the school board then ignored the advice, faked a search, and hired the person everyone knew would be hired — and paid the consultant.
At least the commissioners didn’t hire someone to offer advice for them to ignore.
What the commissioners don’t understand, is the long process and the predictable conclusion undermine Harris, who will be seen as a lapdog for the commissioners who was rewarded for doing as he was told. The question going forward will be does Harris get to grab the steering wheel with both hands, or will he have to share it with commissioners who don’t understand their role, or the county manager’s.
We want to be clear about this: Harris is qualified for the position, and is deserving.
He comes from a background as a manager in private business, which is the real world. He worked for five years as an assistant county manager and learned a bunch under County Manager Ken Windley, which Harris will acknowledge. He now has about 600 days working as the interim, and has crafted two budgets that have held the line on taxes, avoided layoffs, and tended to infrastructure needs to the extent that has been possible. This has been achieved as local governments struggle with declining revenues that have resulted from the recession.
Harris has deep roots in this county, is personable, engaging, and returns phone calls.
We have no doubt about Harris’ ability to do a good job. Our only worry is that the commissioners allow him that freedom.