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Orchid on verge of naming town manager?

Photo: Town Clerk and interim Town Manager Cherry Stowe.

More than three months after Noah Powers’ surprise announcement in August that he’d be stepping down as town manager on Sept. 24, the Town of Orchid may be on the verge of appointing a permanent town manager.

During a Dec. 7 meeting called specifically to discuss internal candidate Town Clerk Cherry Stowe, the council is expected to vote whether to promote Stowe or continue the search process. Since Powers’ departure, Stowe has undertaken both her own position and that of interim town manager.¬†

According to Orchid Mayor Bob Gibbons, Stowe, who has served in her position since 2015, has recently submitted an application, per council¬† request. Stowe had previously stated past and present council members have asked her if she’d be interested in becoming town manager at some point, but she never actively sought the job.

Powers’ Aug. 9 resignation letter, which only referred vaguely to “recent events” which gave him “cause to re-evaluate my employment status with the Town of Orchid,” sparked surprise and consternation among council members. At the Sept. 13 council meeting, Powers explained that over the summer he’d met with Gibbons and the mayor suggested a transition plan for Powers’ retirement, with Stowe moving into the town manager position. Powers said Gibbons presented the idea in such a way that Powers felt he was being “forced out.”

At the time, Gibbons said he’d never intended to fire Powers, but had actually told Powers he wanted to both renew his contract and establish a new transition procedure.

Following Powers’ departure, several town council members opined that Stowe would in fact be a strong and logical choice, but agreed not to rush the process.¬† To that end, council sought the services of a senior advisor from the International City/County Management Association, Ken Parker. Parker’s advice proved invaluable, Gibbons said.

Parker’s presentation detailed the entire process, including how to handle an internal candidate, as well as alternatives. He provided questionnaires for each council member and conducted one-on-one discussions with each, to determine their expectations and the attributes each member felt were most important for their town manager to possess.

Parker then consolidated the information to create a profile of the ideal town manager, and Gibbons noted that profile was well-received by the council.

Prior to the Dec. 7 meeting, each council member had a one-on-one with Stowe as well. There will be no external search, said Gibbons, until the internal candidate issue has been decided on one way or another. If Stowe is chosen, and a salary can be agreed upon, Orchid will have its new town manager as soon as the necessary papers are signed. Then the search will get under way for a new town clerk.

If, however, the council decides to keep looking, then the council would seek Parker’s assistance in the search. “Then,” says Gibbons, “we have a great deal of confidence in him, he will know the right approach with the right person.”

In 2015, as Orchid’s fifth town manager, Powers’ starting salary was $80,000, with no additional benefits. His 2021-22 salary would have been $128,544. Stowe’s town clerk salary is $74,984.