As City Manager John Connet bade farewell to the city he said will always be his hometown, City Council members and staff expressed their gratitude for his “invaluable” leadership that breathed new life into the Sampson seat. The Council also moved forward in selecting a firm to find Connet’s successor.
The selection of executive search firm Springsted to assist with the recruitment and selection of a new city manager was approved following a closed session at the end of Tuesday’s Council meeting, which was Connet’s final regular meeting as the city’s manager.
Connet accepted the city manager post for the City of Hendersonville last month, beating out 85 other applicants for the position. He will serve his last day as Clinton’s manager on May 24 and begin in the Hendersonville capacity May 28.
In his final regular meeting report to the board, a reflective Connet said his goodbyes.
“As I take a deep breath, I’ve prepared some comments as it relates to my report tonight and, in order to get through it, I’m going to have to read it, so bear with me,” Connet began. “Dear Mayor Starling and City Council members, on July 1, 2002 I returned to Clinton after an 18-year absence to fulfill my goal of becoming city manager in the community I consider my hometown. Over the past 11 years we have accomplished many great things together.”
He noted 2007’s All-America City honor, the revitalization of downtown, the expansion of City Hall and the ability of the city to “maintain a sound budget in the toughest financial environment since the Great Depression.” Connet said he was especially proud of the management team assembled to guide day-to-day operations for the city, a group who have always worked as a team to move Clinton forward.
“None of us are perfect, but we have learned together and tried hard not to make the same mistakes twice,” said Connet. “We have built a strong team culture that will benefit the organization for many years to come.”
Connet said there are many things that are left undone, many of which will be covered by a final transition memo the outgoing city manager said he will be preparing over the next couple weeks.
“However, I believe that I’m leaving the City of Clinton in a position that will allow you to continue down a path of meeting the vision and mission statements that are located on the wall behind me,” said Connet. “I can confidently say this community is looked upon as a leader in this region and communities of greater size often call us for advice or guidance. This should make you proud.”
Upon accepting his next managerial job, Connet said it was a great career opportunity for him and a great location to be closer to wife Lori’s family after living more than four hours away for the past 14 years. He said it would be bittersweet. He said he would miss Clinton and that it would always have a special place in his heart.
On Tuesday, he said it would be the people he would miss most.
“There are many people that I must personally thank for their support and assistance, and I will attempt to contact all of you over the next couple weeks,” said Connet. “However, time has a way of getting in the way, and I wanted to take this opportunity at my last formal City Council meeting to thank the mayor, City Council, Dale Johnson and citizens and staff for all your support and encouragement over the last 11 years.”
“I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together,” he continued. “Now, in conclusion and with deep regret, I must submit my resignation as city manager of Clinton effective May 24, 2013. I look forward to my final 17 days as your city manager and I hope you will allow me to continue to call Clinton my hometown.”
“What if we don’t accept it, Mr. Connet?” said Mayor Lew Starling, to laughs in the audience.
The mayor then offered his sincere thanks to Connet.
“Mr. Connet, what you have done for the city is invaluable,” the mayor said, “and we can’t thank you enough.”
Several moments of silence passed as the two collected themselves.
“Thank you,” said Connet. “It’s been a pleasure.”
Councilwoman Maxine Harris remembered a young Connet from when he was a schoolboy in Clinton. She, like others, said he would be sorely missed.
“I hate to see you go,” said Harris. “I remember seeing you in the halls of Sampson Middle School in the seventh grade.”
Clinton-Sampson planning director Mary Rose said the core values developed by the City Council are embodied by the city’s “fearless leader” Connet.
“He’s very approachable, he’s very caring, ethical and forward-thinking. I appreciate all those values in Mr. Connet. He’s also very patient, moreso with some of us — I’m referring to Mr. (Jeff) Vreugdenhil and myself — than others,” Rose said.
She offered a quote she felt characterized Connet. “As Abraham Lincoln said, ‘I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives, and I like to see a man live so that his place would be proud of him,’” Rose read. “I think that is very appropriate for this man. Thank you for all you’ve given to us.”
Following Rose’s comments, those in attendance gave Connet a standing ovation.
Resident Lindsay Peterson said when he came back to Clinton in 1976, he joined the Rotary Club and one of the first people he met was John Connet’s father Pete Connet, who served as the city’s manager from 1972 to 1984.
“I got to know Pete real well and I’m proud to say tonight that it’s been a great privilege for me to have as my dear friend Pete Connet as my city manager and John Connet as my city manager,” he said, addressing John. “Both of you are good men. It’s been a pleasure.”
While Tuesday was Connet’s final regular meeting, a budget session scheduled for this Tuesday, May 14, is expected to be his last official meeting. Following a closed session Tuesday, the Council put into motion the process through which the city’s next manager would be chosen.
Connet recommended hiring Sprinsted, one of three executive search firms being considered in the city manager search process.
“Based on my review of the proposals, I would recommend that the mayor and City Council hire Springsted,” he said. “This recommendation is based on their experience with Clinton and the number of similar searches they have completed over the last several years.”
The board approved. The cost is expected to be between $16,000 and $23,000 plus candidate travel expenses during interviews.
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at email@example.com.