Hot Springs board picks new city manager

By Wayne Bryan Published April 15, 2012 at 2:40 a.m.
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— David Watkins, a 58-year-old Alabama native who has served in city administration in Texas and Kansas, has been unanimously selected by the Hot Springs Board of Directors to be the new city manager.

Hot Springs Mayor Ruth Carney announced the appointment after a short executive session Tuesday. She said Watkins will begin working for the city on June 18 at an annual salary of $148,000, plus a city car.

Current City Manager Lance Hudnell will retire June 30 after working for the city for 34 years. He became city manager in 2009 after serving as deputy city manager. He came to Hot Springs as city clerk.

Watkins served as city manager for Bryan, Texas, for four years, leaving in 2010. There he led a city workforce of800 employees and oversaw an annual budget of $329 million in a city of 75,000, according to an announcement made by the city of Hot Springs.

Watkins said he is excited about taking the job.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to use my experience to work with the board of directors on tackling some issues that personally challenge me: downtown redevelopment, water supply issues, fiscal constraints - all challenges that I’ve had in the past,” Watkins said, according to a statement released by the city.

During his two-day visit to the city at the end of March, Watkins said major repairs to the municipal infrastructure would be his first priority as city manager.

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

In Texas, Watkins helped the city of Bryan develop the city’s first five-year capital-improvement plan. It was later recognized by the Texas Chapter of American Public Works as one of the best in the state. In Hot Springs, candidates discussed the need for a long-range strategic plan for the community, especially for downtown redevelopment.

In his statement announcing his selection, Watkins said he was impressed with the “pride, dedication and loyalty” of city employees whom he met during his visit to Hot Springs.

“I’m ready to go to work,” Watkins said.

During his visit to Hot Springs, Watkins said being city manager is 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 the board of directors,” he said.

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

“The city manager can be a good neutral conduit of information to the elected officials,” he said. “It is not my job to deal with politics.”

The selection of the next city manager was made Tuesday afternoon, the fourth meeting the directors had held on the matter. On March 31, the board met in a rare Saturday meeting for more than seven hours after the two final candidates had spent two days in the city meeting with directors and city employees. That directors’ meeting ended without a decision.

“We asked for more information,” Director Karen Garcia told the Tri-Lakes Edition after the meeting.

The directors met again April 4 but did not announce a hiring decision. The directors also met Monday in executive session, but this time the board appeared to be concentrating more on designing a contract with a new city manager than making a selection. The directors met for more than an hour, talking with City Attorney Brian Albright.

“We have worked on the contract, and it’s pretty new in areas because we weren’t used to the contract,” Mayor Carney announced after the executive session ended, and told reporters more communication was needed.

The city originally received more than 40 applications for the position, and a recruitment committee was hired to conduct the nationwide search.

Watkins and his wife, Kay, have been working as a team in the real estate business in Texas and have two grown daughters.

Staff writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at (501) 244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

Tri-Lakes Edition Writer Wayne Bryan can be reached at 501-244-4460 or wbryan@arkansasonline.com.

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