Board of directors asks for more information on two candidates

By Wayne Bryan Published April 5, 2012 at 3:33 a.m.
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— The search for a new city manager for Hot Springs continues.

After more than two weeks to look over resumes and check references, as well as a three-day visit to the city by two finalists, the Hot Springs Board of Directors did not name a successor to Lance Hudnell, who will retire at the end of June.

The directors called a special Saturday-morning meeting at the city’s Central Fire Station to interview finalists Randall Dowling, county administrator of Gordon County, Ga., and David Watkins, a former city manager of Bryan, Texas.

“We did not make a decision, Director Karen Garcia told the Tri-Lakes Edition after the meeting. “We asked for some additional information.”

On Saturday, Garcia said she hoped the boardcould make a selection before the end of the week.

The board called a special meeting that was set for Wednesday to “consider city manager applicants,” according to an announcement made Tuesday morning by the city’s public information office. The results of that meeting were not available at press time for the Tri-Lakes Edition.

On March 12, the board of directors announced the names of four candidates for the city-manager post and said they had been invited to come to Hot Springs.

Before the candidates were set to arrive, two of them - Larry Deetah, village manager and CEO of Oak Lawn, Ill., and Jeffrey Earl Repp, former city administrator of Cumberland, Md. - withdrew from consideration for the job.

“We are down to the two finalists,” Mayor Ruth Carney told reporters at the beginning of an open house for city residents to meet the candidates in the Grand Lobby of the Hot Springs Convention Center on Friday evening.

The two remaining candidates - Dowling and Watkins - came to Hot Springs on Thursday to tour the city and its municipal facilities. On Friday, the candidates attended a series of meetings with city department heads and staff members. The meetings were coordinated by Ron Holifield of Strategic Government Resources, a professional search firm in Keller, Texas.

At the open-house with residents, Watkins, 59, a native of Auburn, Ala., said Hot Springs’ municipal infrastructure is “old and needs major repairs” and would be the first priority for the city manager, once selected.

“The city will also have to find a way to pay for it,” he said. “Fixing the water system is needed before downtown revitalization can take place.”

Watkins said improving the infrastructure of the city would be essential to its future economic development.

“Hot Springs has some problems, but it has a lot of assets that most cities this size don’t have,” he said. “Some cities have problems and no assets, and that is when people decide it is time to move. Hot Springsis not that way.”

Watkins said he sees the job of city manager as similar to being a team’s head coach.

“The job is to put the right people in the right places and to motivate those people to do the best job they can in the directions decided by the mayor and board of directors,” he said.

The finalist also said he hopes he and the city’s elected officials could work with the understanding that they would not always agree on every issue.

“The city manager can be a good neutral conduit of information to the county,” Watkins said. “It is not my job to deal with politics, but I know that if you don’t get along with the board of directors, you’re not going to make it.”

Bryan, near College Station, Texas, and Watkins worked out a “separation agreement” Sept. 7, 2010, for his immediate resignation. The condition of his contract with the city prevents both Watkins and members ofthe Bryan city government from discussing the reasons behind his leaving.

During the reception in Hot Springs, Watkins told reporters that he had demanded records from the administrator of the city-owned utilities in Bryan, but had been refused. He did not say that was the reason for his leaving the job, only that it had been a tough issue during his two- year tenure as city manager of the Texas town.

Dowling, 49, who is chief administrator for Gordon County, Ga., about 70 miles northwest of Atlanta, is a native of HotSprings and a graduate of Hot Springs High School.

“My first job was with the Hot Springs Sentinel-Record,” Dowling said at the open house. “I would come in about midnight once a week to help get out the Sunday newspapers.”

He said he moved to Florida, and then Georgia, after graduating from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville in 1987.

Dowling said little has changed in town since he left 27 years ago.

“It is amazing. Downtown looks much the same as when I was here, except for the Majestic [Hotel]. It is horrible what has happened to it,” he said. “They were talking downtown revitalization then, and you still are.”

Dowling said the city needs a strategic plan that has specific plans and goals, but to do anything, the city needs more funding.

“It is almost impossible to do anything with only sales-tax revenue,” Dowling said. “The road conditions are bad, and having funds to pave only three miles a year is horrible.”

He said the biggest change in the city is the development on its outskirts and along Lake Hamilton.

“A lot of that land used to be in timber, and now there is every kind of restaurant, homes and businesses,” Dowling said.

Dowling said he would like to have the job of city manager in Hot Springs to help his boyhood home grow and prosper.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or

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