Just when you think that rational thought has been banned from the Council Chambers, the Greensboro City Council does something so sensible it’s shocking.
And that was the case shortly before 11 p.m. at the Tuesday, June 5, Greensboro City Council meeting when the council voted unanimously to promote interim City Manager David Parrish to city manager.
According to the resolution read by Mayor Nancy Vaughan, Parrish, who is 39, will have an annual salary of $194,000 and receive an executive allowance of $1,000 a month.
Parrish was named interim city manager in March after former City Manager Jim Westmoreland announced he would retire on April 30. So for a few weeks Greensboro had a city manager and an interim city manager both serving.
Parrish was the sensible choice for city manager, which makes it somewhat shocking that the City Council would hire him. Parrish had been an assistant city manager since November 2012, and during the past two years Parrish had taken on many of the duties of Westmoreland, who frequently had to miss work because both his wife and mother were seriously ill.
Anyone who attended a City Council meeting during the past two years might have noticed that although the questions were asked of Westmoreland, they were invariably answered by Parrish.
Having grown up in Greensboro makes Parrish a little different from previous city managers. He went to Rankin Elementary School and Northeast High School and then UNC-Greensboro. His first job was working at Bryan Park. He also has a master’s degree in public administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.
After being named city manager Parrish thanked the City Council saying, “Thank you. I appreciate the trust and opportunity. I recognize the heavy responsibility and I don’t take it lightly.” He added, “As a kid who grew up here, it’s pretty cool.”
Parrish came back to Greensboro after serving as the deputy city manager of Danville, Virginia. And before that he was the manager of Yanceyville. Early in his career he worked for the Well-Spring retirement community and The Arc of Greensboro.
Parrish said that as assistant and interim city manager he had come up with some ideas he would like to implement. He said, “It’s different being interim and being manager and I want to talk with the staff before I say anything. I want to have a good pace.”
He indicated any changes he made would come over time and not to expect anything right away.
Parrish was the obvious choice for the job. He had essentially been running the city as an assistant city manager and then as interim city manager, and the City Council seemed satisfied with his work. Parrish had even learned to explain how the Minority and Women Business Enterprise (MWBE) program actually worked to City Councilmember Sharon Hightower, as opposed to how Hightower thought it should work.
The one thing that appeared to be standing between Parrish and the city manager’s job was his race and gender. The City Council is made up of eight females – five white and three black – and one black male. There isn’t a single white male on the City Council. Some people assumed that at the very least the City Council would insist on a national search rather than hire a white male city manager.
Although the City Council knew Parrish and were generally pleased with his work as assistant city manager and interim city manager, the deciding factor in deciding to go ahead and offer Parrish the job without doing a national search was an event that no one could have anticipated – the tornado.
City councilmembers are reportedly so impressed with the way Parrish has handled the tornado recovery that they decided there was no need to do a national search because they had the best person for the job right here.
Mayor Nancy Vaughan said the decision was made to go ahead and hire Parrish because, “David has done such a tremendous job as assistant and interim city manager. Particularly the work he did with the tornado recovery, the fire and the parking decks. We didn’t see how anyone could have taken all those difficult issues and have done better.”
The City Council had indicated that it would finish the budget and then make a decision on hiring a new city manager, but Vaughan said, “Considering the work that David was doing, we didn’t see any reason to kick the can down the road any more.”
City Councilmember Justin Outling said, “People were able to see that he was the right person for the job, primarily because he is a problem solver.”
Outling said the tornado response by the city, coordinated by Parrish, was really the turning point for him. Outling said that he thought the city should do a national search but, after the tornado response, he was convinced that Parrish was the best person for the job.
Outling said, “He led a phenomenal response for what was one of the worst days in the city. I haven’t heard a single complaint about the city’s response, which is really remarkable.”
Outling said that simply the management of the multitude of volunteers who showed up to help was a daunting task and he was impressed with how volunteers were organized and allowed to get out there and work and how that was coordinated with the city work crews and Duke Energy.
He said, “We intended to do a national search but David’s performance in the last couple of months has been so exceptional it would border on silly not to put him in that position.”
Outling said that hiring Parrish was also “a tribute to Westmoreland because it shows his leadership and his ability to cultivate talent. David was given the opportunity to prove himself, which he did.”
Hiring Parrish continues a long-standing tradition of Greensboro promoting the city manager from within. In 1996, Ed Kitchen was promoted from deputy city manager to city manager. When Kitchen retired in 2005, the City Council promoted Deputy City Manager Mitch Johnson to city manager. When Johnson was fired in March 2009, the city did step outside the box and hired Rashad Young from Dayton, Ohio, as city manager. Unfortunately, Young left Greensboro in 2011 and Assistant City Manager Denise Turner Roth was promoted to city manager. In 2013, Roth left for the number two position with the General Services Administration in Washington, DC, and the City Council promoted Deputy City Manager Jim Westmoreland to city manager. Now, with Westmoreland’s retirement, Parrish has been selected. So since 1996 only one city manager has been hired from outside the city.