A new York County manager

September 18, 2013 

After months of searching, York County has a new manager. We hope he will instill a professional approach to running the county – and that the County Council will give him the leeway to do so.

The manager’s position has been open since January, when Jim Baker left the post to take a similar job in Virginia. One firm began the search for candidates but was dismissed by the council, which hired another firm to come up with a new list.

After narrowing the list of five candidates to two, council members unanimously voted to offer the manager’s job to Bill Shanahan, current deputy administrator of Augusta, Ga. He and fellow finalist, Steve Layson, current chief administrative officer of Bibb County, Ga., were the only candidates with county-level experience.

Council Chairman Britt Blackwell said that in addition to experience, personality and demeanor played a big role in the council’s decision. He praised Shanahan for “talking from the heart” during interviews with the council.

The council now will start with a clean slate and a manager of its own choice. That also is an opportunity to establish more clearly delineated roles for both the council and manager.

The council’s role is to set policy. The manager’s role is to run the county’s operation.

While the council obviously must work with the manager, we hope members will give him a free hand to select and manage his staff and to do his job without interference or micromanagement by council members.

If that seems negative, consider Baker’s warning as he left for Virginia: “I preached all along about how staff and council are partners. If one looks bad, all look bad. York County is professional, or it’s not.”

Baker also worried that the council at times seemed to verge on being dysfunctional. He was especially critical of the habit of some council members of criticizing county staffers during meetings.

Again, this represents a fresh start for the council, the county manager and county employees. It’s a chance for everyone to assume their proper roles and get down to the crucial business of addressing the pressing issues the county faces.

A great deal of unfinished business remains from the Baker regime. So do many of the same challenges.

Baker offered another valuable observation before leaving. He noted that it is up to the residents of this county to demand professional behavior from the council, the manager and the staff, and to show that they won’t tolerate petty bickering and the lack of decorum at council meetings.

And county officials at all levels need to be mindful of their responsibility to the citizens of York County. This will require discretion, mutual respect, cooperation and adherence to the chain of command.

We welcome Shanahan to York County and hope he will be able to establish a cooperative and productive working relationship with the council that serves the best interests of all residents.

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