|Richmond's Top Job
Goes To Insider
May 14, 1998
WEST COUNTY TIMES
* COUNCIL SETTLES ON ISIAH TURNER TO MOVE UP FROM DEPUTY MANAGER TO LEAD THE CITY THROUGH ITS DAUNTING FISCAL, POLITICAL CRISES
Thursday, May 14, 1998
RICHMOND The city manager's job has been offered to a man with an insider's experience and a reputation for solving tough problems.
Deputy City Manager Isiah Turner got the nod from the Richmond City Council on Tuesday. He and the council will negotiate a contract. He could be formally hired May 26.
Turner is being praised by supporters as a person with the ability to develop consensus among people with competing agendas. That will be a handy skill for the helmsman of a city in the midst of a financial and political crisis. Richmond is facing a huge budget deficit and is considering layoffs.
"The city was long overdue for somebody to come in and chart a new course and get (it) back in the right direction," said Dennis Spaniol, executive director of the Council of Industries, which supported Turner.
His selection wasn't unanimous and comes despite questions about his experience from some council members. Two other administrators with more management experience vied for the job: Gerald Seals, county administrator for the County of Greenville, S.C., and Daniel Hobbs, city manager of Farmington, Mich.
But supporters cited Turner's years of city involvement. As deputy city manager of community and economic development, he has been in charge of six departments, including the Port of Richmond, Housing Authority, Employment and Training Department and the Private Industry Council.
"He's an advocate of the residents of Richmond, he's a product of the city and he has demonstrated that he can come through," Councilwoman Irma Anderson said. "He has the ability to work with the residents, with city personnel and most importantly with the council."
"Isiah is one of the city's most efficient managers in terms of relating to the City Council," Councilman Nat Bates said. "No matter how we voted, I think he is going to work as hard and effectively with those who did not support him as he will for those who did."
Mayor Rosemary Corbin announced the selection of Turner at the beginning of Tuesday's council meeting. The announcement was met with a smattering of applause and no public comment. It came after a low-key, 30-minute session behind closed doors.
The vote was 7-2, with Tom Butt and Donna Powers dissenting, Corbin said. Butt said the actual margin of support was a lot narrower.
"There were four people who probably would not have voted for Isiah" had he not had the support of five other council members, he said. Butt said the concern was Turner's lack of experience.
The council has been without a manager since it voted to oust Floyd Johnson in November. Turner was a leading replacement for Johnson from the beginning, and Tuesday's announcement came as no surprise.
"That's been the rumor ever since they made the decision to fire Floyd," said George Harris, III, a council watchdog and one of Johnson's supporters. "It would have surprised me had he not gotten the job."
The council is set to formally hire Turner at its May 26 meeting after terms of his contract are negotiated.
The decision to hire Turner comes on the heels of a month-long effort to trim nearly $5 million from the budget for the coming fiscal year. That effort includes retirements, elimination of vacant positions and a proposal to lay off at least 14 employees.
"He's talking over at a really difficult time, but a lot of the tough stuff has already been done," said Corbin. "We're in a terrible situation but I think things are going to get better."
Turner said his first task as city manager will be to fill the vacant position of planning director and to hire a replacement for Finance Director Marla Taylor, who is retiring.
He said he plans to take a firm but sensitive lead in restoring the morale of city staff members. And he aims to heal political rifts on the council.
"I plan to work with the council in a way that will accommodate their nine different perspectives and personalities and try to get them to focus as a group collectively on the larger issues that need to be dealt with," Turner said Wednesday.