Pepper Lockhart selected as new city manager in Evart

Mayor: 'Her passion for the city really came through'

The Evart city council voted to extend an offer of employment as the city manager to current finance director/treasurer Pepper Lockhart during its meeting last week. Details of the contract are still being worked out. (Pioneer photo/Cathie Crew)

The Evart city council voted to extend an offer of employment as the city manager to current finance director/treasurer Pepper Lockhart during its meeting last week. Details of the contract are still being worked out. (Pioneer photo/Cathie Crew)

EVART — The Evart city council voted 3-2 to offer the position of city manager to current Evart finance director and treasurer Pepper Lockhart during its recent meeting.

Voting “no” were council members Sandra Szeliga and Don Elliott, stating that Lockhart’s inexperience in management was a concern.

“Is there a possibility that we could interview two or three more people?” Szeliga asked. “We are talking about a substantial responsibility. I am not saying Pepper would not be good, but I would like to see her have a period of growth and then, down the road, maybe she could be the city manager.

“I like the job she (Lockhart) is doing for us now,” she continued. “She knows the business end and she knows the finances, but I am not ready to turn over the position of city manager to her. I am not ready to give the job to somebody that is inexperienced. We went through this once, and I don’t want to go through it again.”

Elliott said he agreed with that opinion, and said he would like to see someone with more experience in the position.

“I just do not feel, right now, that Pepper has the management experience needed,” he said. “If we invested in her, then in two or three years she could be one, but not now. Finances is a small part of running the city. She has none of the manager experience, and that could cost us down the road.”

He, too, suggested interviewing additional candidates.

Mayor Chris Emerick said she understood where the council members were coming from but felt that conducting additional interviews would be unproductive.

“Looking for a city candidate with city manager experience is difficult,” Emerick said. “From what was shared with us, there are multiple open positions, and trying to lure a city manager from another location is hard. We had other applications that we looked at and I don’t recall any of the candidates having any specific experience, so even if we draw from the pool again, we will be drawing from the same experience.”

The council reviewed a total of eight applications, narrowing the field to 3 final candidates, which were interviewed during a special meeting Oct. 23.

Council member Sean Duffy said, given that two of the final candidates have no experience in managing a city, he would like to see a mentoring contract in place.

“If we were to go with either of those candidates, I think it would be to our advantage to see if we could work out another contract with Richard (Lewis, interim city manager) that would involve some mentorship,” Duffy said.

“I have spent the weekend considering the numerous positive comments that we have received from current city staff,” he continued. “They are certainly in favor of an internal candidate. I think Pepper interviewed very well. Certainly, Pepper has a phenomenal background in finance. We know she doesn’t have much experience in managing a city, but I feel she can learn. That is where the mentorship can play a role for us.”

Lewis said he would be willing to serve as a mentor to the new city manager as much as time permits for the first few weeks.

“It would be really nice if you (Lewis) could be here for a short time to help us figure out some things,” council member Matt Hildebrand added. “As far as my thoughts, she (Lockhart) seems to be the number one candidate. After interviewing all the candidates, my preference would be Pepper.

“I think we did our due diligence going through what we think we needed and trimming the selection down to three to interview,” he continued. “I think we need to make a selection.”

Emerick agreed, saying, “I took a lot of time over the weekend pouring over the resumes and there isn’t anyone there that was unqualified.

“When it came to Pepper," she said, "her passion for the city really came through, and the fact that several staff members came forward and gave their personal endorsements — these are people that work beside her and know how she works — and that says a lot about her. Pepper would be my choice as well.”

Emerick made the motion to extend a conditional offer of employment to Lockhart to serve as city manager pending successful contract negotiations.

Details of the contract are still being worked out.