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Mayor breaks tie in appointment of new Roswell city administrator

Randy Knighton

The Mayor and City Council voted 4-3 at a Sept. 29 special called meeting to appoint Randy Knighton as the new City Administrator of Roswell.

ROSWELL, Ga. — Randy Knighton has been selected to fill the position of Roswell City Administrator.

The City Council voted 4-3 to approve the appointment at a Sept. 29, special called meeting.

Before casting her tie-breaking vote, Mayor Lori Henry said she thought Knighton would be a “stabilizing force” to push the city forward. Knighton is the current city manager of Stockbridge.

“I don’t care if we had a 12-month search, a 24-month search or a 54-month search,” Henry said. “We are fortunate to have a candidate that I believe is a perfect fit for the City of Roswell, and we would be remiss if we did not promote that person to city administrator.”

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The meeting ran about 30 minutes, much of it debating the wisdom of voting on the measure before the November municipal election.

Henry and council members Marie Willsey, Matt Tyser and Matt Judy voted in favor of Knighton’s appointment. Council members Christine Hall, Mike Palermo and Marcelo Zapata voted against.

Hall said she was concerned the process had been rushed.

“I certainly hope that Mr. Knighton is able to perform his duties and does a good job, but I feel that the search was not appropriate,” she said.

The City Council voted along the same lines at a Sept. 14 special called meeting where Knighton was selected as the sole finalist following a four-month national search for candidates. No public comment was allowed at either meeting.

Zapata and Palermo said the decision should not have been made before a major election. There are 10 candidates running for mayor and three City Council seats in the Nov. 2 election.

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Zapata said the job was posted for slightly under three months, and candidates had a narrow 30-day window to apply from June 25 to July 26. He also criticized Henry for “constantly” calling for special called meetings at inconvenient times for residents to attend.

“With only five weeks until the big election of mayor and three council members,” Zapata said, “it is not in the best interest of the Roswell taxpayers and residents for the newly elected officials in November to inherit a rushed decision of this magnitude….”

Judy defended the decision, and he referenced an Oct. 10, 2017, meeting in which the City Council — including Henry, Palermo and Zapata — unanimously approved the hiring of former City Administrator Gary Palmer. He said 2017 was also an election year and the City Council didn’t seem to have a problem with moving forward with it then.

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The city hired the same consultant firm, Mercer Group Associates, to conduct the search for candidates.

Stressing that the process had not been rushed, Henry said the city had completed a “standard, run-of-the-mill job-seeking process.”

“This was not rushed in any shape, way or form,” Henry said. “… I realize that if some of us say ‘rushing’ enough times that someone might believe it, and I would like to remind everyone that this is very similar to the timeline that we went through four years ago. The dates are almost exactly the same, and at that time the folks that are saying that we’re rushing now were in full support of moving forward on that appointment.”

Palermo countered that the point in his objection was not to focus on what happened four years ago, but what they had learned from that process. Palermo said it was likely fewer candidates had applied both times because of the upcoming elections.

“[Knighton] might absolutely be the best possible person for the role,” Palermo said. “The honest answer, though, is I do not know if that is the case or not because of the rushed process.”

Henry fired back.

“Alan Reddish with Mercer Group pointed out to us that we would be restricted in candidates because of the disfunction of this council and the concern that people have coming to a city where there is this much division among council that is done in the public,” Henry said.

Willsey said she was confident in the process, and that Knighton was the “positive choice” for the job. Judy said he was excited for Knighton to start.

“I think we’re lucky to have a man of his caliber and his resume,” Judy said. “I think we should all welcome him with open arms, wish him the best, and I’m excited for staff. I think we have a good leader coming in who is measured, steady, accomplished and is going to lead us into the years to come.”

A copy of Knighton’s offer letter obtained through an open records request states Knighton was appointed to an initial term of two years and offered an annual base salary of $185,000, plus benefits.

As the city’s chief operating officer, Knighton will manage a $146 million budget, 600 full-time employees, and more than 30 departments, divisions, and offices. Knighton will also oversee the day-to-day operations of the city and implement policies established by the mayor and City Council to provide services to the citizens of Roswell.

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Before becoming the city manager of Stockbridge, Knighton served as the Hall County Administrator from 2011-2017 and the planning director of the Hall County Planning Department. In Florida, Knighton worked in several planning departments, including in Orange County, the City of Orlando and Osceola County.

Knighton earned a master’s in public administration and a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice from the University of Central Florida. He holds a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University and is a credentialed manager of the International City/County Management Association. He is also a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners, the American Planning Association and the Georgia Planning Association.

Knighton said many people have already reached out to him to welcome him to Roswell. He also said he is grateful for the opportunity to serve as the City Administrator of Roswell and is looking forward to working with citizens, elected officials and staff to accomplish the goals set forth in the recently approved strategic plan.

“I certainly know that the City of Roswell has a number of experienced and accomplished staff members who are dedicated to continuing to move the city forward in a positive direction,” Knighton said. “In my role as City Administrator, I will certainly value the input of others as I make decisions. As a servant leader, it is incumbent upon me to lead by example and ensure staff members have the necessary resources and support to fulfill their roles and responsibilities.”

Knighton takes his post Nov. 1.

The City Council also hired Jason Gaines, Planning and Economic Development Division manager for Cobb County, Sept. 28 to serve as the city’s Community Development director. He is set to start Oct. 11.

Reach Chamian Cruz at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @xchamian.