League Program Connects Manager-less Towns with Interim Talent

Ben Brown, NCLM Communications & Multimedia Strategist

Ensuring continuity of leadership, this NCLM service has proven extraordinarily successful.

Jim Freeman retired. And went right back to work. There was almost no free will in the matter. Sure, Freeman, who managed an array of North Carolina cities and towns over the course of his career, could have declined—money wasn’t the situation. But he felt compelled.

“We need to give something back,” said Freeman, who in retirement partners with the League’s on-staff human-resources consultants for placement as an interim manager in one of the many member cities and towns that may, at any given time, need one. “We’re here to give something back.”

Under the council-manager form of government in North Carolina, the municipal manager is a statutorily required position. Per the always-growing forest of duties with the job, municipalities are methodical with the candidate pool and may take time to find the right, mutual fit. What the League does is connect those towns with experts able to serve as manager on an interim basis—institutional knowledge-loaded retirees like Freeman, who has stood in for towns like Swansboro, Smithfield, Blowing Rock, Troutman, Catawba, and, the town he’d retired from in 2013, Havelock.

“Each one is a little different,” Freeman said. “In some cases, they (the municipal government) wanted to do some basic changes. In other places, it was just keeping the boat afloat or guiding them through finding a new manager.”

Hartwell Wright, a human resources consultant with the League, said it’s been a great program for retirees who’ve wanted to share what they’ve learned for the good will of it, or “just to keep themselves sharp.”

The idea, Wright noted, is to pair towns in need of managers with an interim candidate—not a list of them, but a likely fit who may bring the most relevant experience, as possible.

It’s been a great value-add for League members, said Heather James, who alongside Wright is a human resources consultant with the League. “There’s no cost for us to do this. The only cost is whatever is negotiated with the interim (in terms of compensation),” explained James.

Apex Mayor Jacques Gilbert had nothing but praise following his town’s experience with an interim placement, who “immediately hit the ground running and provided Town Council and staff a much-needed voice of calmness, support, and motivation,” Mayor Gilbert told the League. “His consistent wisdom moments and perspectives truly assisted with decisions and vision forward.”

The League had connected Apex with Ralph Clark, who, like Freeman, has decades of municipal government experience—not always as manager, of course; entry-level was his start, with the Town of Clayton, a time he looks upon fondly. He told Southern City of the reward he felt working his way up.

“I look at my experience level,” Clark explained. “I look at where I came from, from the very bottom to the top. You get an understanding.” It’s a crucial read on the nuance and behaviors different communities and their leadership have, often figuring into scalable, relatable know-how that can advance all.

Mayor Gilbert emphasized how impressed he was over Clark’s way with town staff. “His style of leadership empowers those around him,” the mayor said of Clark, whose four-month interim with the town wrapped in June 2021. “I noticed our staff responded to Ralph in a positive manner, and this allowed our team to continue to move forward in spite of challenges with COVID and ongoing personnel matters. He is such a positive person who inspires others to perform at the highest level.”

The vast majority of interim manager candidates the League has paired with towns are North Carolinians, at least in work experience. “It seems to me the best fit to have someone that has North Carolina knowledge,” said James.

It tends to come with the secret ingredient of great management—
on-the-ground involvement, motivated by care. “You’ve got to really love your community,” said Freeman. “You’ve got to really be part of the community.”

“I feel like I have a lot left to give in life,” said Clark. “Municipal is my strong point. I kind of feel like it’s like giving back a little bit. It keeps my brain active and lets me feel like I am contributing something.”

Retired municipal managers interested in the program may contact the League for an interest form.