COLUMBIANA - A city employee was chosen as the new city manager Tuesday night, but the decision was not unanimous.
Following a roughly 40-minute executive session during the special council meeting, Mayor David Spatholt was called upon to break a 3-3 tie to hire Wastewater Superintendent Lance Willard for the full-time administrative position.
Those opposed were Bryan Blakeman, Bob Bieshelt and James King.
Councilman Lowell Schloneger had originally moved to hire Willard and Councilman Tom Ferguson seconded, but Councilman Bryan Blakeman moved to amend that motion and hire Ted Andrzejewski, of Eastlake, effective immediately.
Blakeman's motion was approved by Bieshelt and King but Schloneger, Ferguson and council member Mary Calinger opposed, leading Spatholt to break that tie by voting against and killing the motion.
The motion to hire Willard then moved forward with Spatholt's vote.
Blakeman, who has lobbied for the position to be filled by someone with no ties to the city, was visibly upset and expressed his displeasure.
"I'd like for the people in the city to know that over the last month we have met diligently and spent hours upon hours having these conversations of who we would pick. For the last week or so this council was mostly united in a decision that did not involve a current city employee," he said.
He went on to say that Andrzejewski met all of the qualifications council members and Spatholt were requesting in a candidate while Willard did not.
"We did interviews this weekend ... We interviewed him for over an hour and after looking at all the people and all the qualifications, this person, hands-down, has the greatest skill set of running the city," he said of Andrzejewski.
Willard was first hired by the city in 2001 as wastewater superintendent and has not previously held a city management position. He spent four years in Newton Falls in Trumbull County working as a wastewater operator prior to coming to Columbiana.
Andrzejewski is currently serving as mayor in Eastlake, a position he has held since elected in 2004.
Neither men were present at the meeting, although Willard was available for comment later in the evening.
"I'm totally honored and excited," he said. "I look forward to doing a great job for the city and I will work very hard for the citizens and I believe everybody will see that I'm doing a good job."
Spatholt said Willard was the best choice because he's a forward-thinker.
"I was in both interviews and I felt comfortable he was the person to pick," the mayor said.
Willard was given an interview despite not even meeting the scoring requirements. He and Police Chief Tim Gladis were the only two city employees who applied for the position.
Spatholt said they were given interviews because as city employees they needed to be considered.
Of the 70 applicants from all over the country, interviews were given to seven people, with three approved for second interviews.
Blakeman said Willard is a "very good guy" and would make a good service director, but was baffled by the decision to chose him over someone with the required experience.
After the meeting Blakeman said Andrzejewski's name was in the hat as a result of civil service commission member Rick Noel, who also served on the selection advisory committee with Schloneger, Spatholt and Bieshelt.
Much like what happened Tuesday evening the committee members weren't united, with Schloneger leaning toward a candidate and Bieshelt leaning toward another candidate, so a compromise was suggested by Spatholt.
Blakeman said he suggested the committee take Noel's suggestion since Noel does no hiring within the city and wouldn't be biased. Noel suggested Andrzejewski, Blakeman said.
Like Blakeman, Bieshelt has also said he didn't want to see someone hired from within.
"I hate to be competing and everything but Ted Andrzejewski met all of the requirements that we set forth in this job ... we had asked for five to 10 years of experience and we didn't get any of that. The person we voted down has all of them," Bieshelt said.
King said he was "shocked" with the decision and questioned how council came to be divided when they were all united only a short while ago.
"I thought we had a decision a couple of weeks ago and for some reason everything changed. I don't know how things change unless council votes on it. We didn't have any vote ... how does that happen?" he said.
Schloneger said he believed the right person was chosen for the job and that comments made during the meeting "don't represent the entire council."
Willard will replace acting city manager Mike Harold, who is also the city's full-time finance director. Harold was chosen for the temporary position in December following the retirement of Keith Chamberlin, who has since been selected to serve on the county's Port Authority board.
Willard said someone is already in line to replace him as wastewater superintendent.
"We have a succession plan in place. How I manage people, my goal is to create superintendents if at all possible. I'm a very transparent person, very transparent in the way I manage and I try to let everybody know what I'm doing and train them," Willard said.
The man in line to fill the superintendent position has been training since January 2011.
"He's really taken an active role in learning to operate the plant as far as what needs to be done," Willard said.
Ultimately, that person will need to decide if they want to step into the superintendent role, however. Willard didn't wish to disclose that person's identity at this point since the decision has not yet been made.
As for council's mixed reaction to his hiring, Willard said while he doesn't have city management experience he has always been a leader.
"Anybody that knows me would tell you that I try to be forward-thinking," he said.
He is currently the president of the Northeast Section of the Ohio Water Environment Association, a non-profit that provides technical education and training for water quality professionals.
"I believe that the knowledge that I've gained by leading that non-profit section (has) prepared me for the leadership aspect of this position. I'm really looking forward to working with everybody on council. I really believe that time will prove I'm doing a great job," he said.