By Fran Memberg
For The Crier
The Chamblee City Council voted unanimously March 15 to offer the position of city manager, which has been vacant since November, to Niles Ford, currently the fire chief of Lincoln, Neb.
Contract negotiations between Ford and the Chamblee city attorney, Joe Fowler, are expected to go smoothly, according to Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson and Ford. The position was advertised with a salary range of $110,000 to $130,000. When the contract has been finalized, the city council will vote on acceptance of the terms.
Ford served as deputy fire chief of Fulton County, Ga., from 2003 to 2007.
“I’m very interested in coming back,” he said by phone from Lincoln the day after he was offered the job. The Dover, Del., native has cousins and godchildren in metro Atlanta and spent most of his life in Birmingham, Ala.
Chamblee’s city manager is the city’s CEO, directing and supervising the administration of all departments, offices and agencies. While Ford has not held a similar position, he impressed Clarkson and the city council with his successful management of the Lincoln fire department. He holds a Ph.D. in organization and management, with a focus on human resource management.
“Niles will make a fine city manager for Chamblee,” said Clarkson. “He has experience dealing with an organization larger than the city of Chamblee. His skills in managing a budget and personnel [will enable him to] make the transition from fire chief to city manager.”
Clarkson pointed out that Chamblee Police Chief Marc Johnson has served as interim city manager since November.
“Watching him helped me understand that someone who manages a government [department] can be a good city manager,” Clarkson said. “Someone with good human resource, budgeting and governance skills can make the transition.”
Ford said he views the change as “an opportunity to stretch and learn more.”
He said getting to know his co-workers and having them get to know him will be his first order of business when he assumes his new post.
“They’ll realize I’m competent as a public administrator and very open to listening to people,” Ford said. “I understand that the best way for an organization to get ahead is to use the talents of the people around you.”
According to Clarkson, communication, finances and annexation are some of the issues that will be on Ford’s desk when he arrives.
“An initiative of the city council is to improve communications out to the public about what’s going on in Chamblee,” Clarkson said.
A request for proposals has already been advertised for communications and public relations firms to coordinate communication with residents and among city departments.
Based on the city’s good financial position, Ford will assess the possibility of lowering the city’s millage rate, according to Clarkson. The hiring of a new finance director has been postponed until the new city manager is in place, said Johnson.
Clarkson said Ford also will be brought up to speed on the recent annexation of the Huntley Hills neighborhood into Chamblee, and other possible annexations that might result from Georgia HB 428 that would create a ‘path to annexation’ for the neighborhoods around Murphey Candler Park, West Nancy Creek Drive and Silver Lake to join either Chamblee or Dunwoody. That bill, sponsored by State Rep. Mike Jacobs, will be considered during next year’s session.
Ford, 46, said he hopes to begin his job in Chamblee by mid-April. He will relocate to the area with his wife and two daughters, ages 12 and 15. Johnson, who made the call to let Ford know the city council’s decision, said Ford is “real excited” about the opportunity.
Chamblee retained the services of Colin Baenziger & Associates to conduct a national search to fill the position vacated by the former city manager, Jim Gleason. The firm received 107 applications and recommended nine to the city for further consideration. The city council narrowed the list to five candidates, who were invited for interviews. Ford was one of two finalists for the job.