Billy Peppers, 32, was selected by a council search committee out of a pool of 41 candidates to replace former City Manager Scott Wood, who resigned in a controversial move minutes before the first meeting of the new council Jan. 2.
Despite allegations Peppers was picked before other candidates got a fair shake, Mayor Gene Hobgood said Peppers is more than qualified during a press conference Friday.
“He’s got a leg up on most candidates we had without any doubt,” Hobgood told the crowd, which appeared mostly in favor of Peppers winning the job, although Peppers has never served as a city manager before. “What he may lack in direct city manager experience, he more than makes up for in enthusiasm, knowledge of city government, grant experience and state contacts.”
The city council is set to take up Peppers’ candidacy at its work session April 3 and then vote on hiring him during its meeting April 17.
Peppers would be stepping in to permanently fill the shoes of interim City Manager Glen Cummins, a city council member, who was hired temporarily by the council in January at a salary of $10,000 a month. Cummins had also not been a city manager previously but had management experience in the private sector.
Hobgood said the city is considering paying Peppers $110,000 a year, plus benefits.
Peppers works as director of downtown development for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and lives with his family on Scott Road just outside the Canton city limits.
“We are part of this community,” he told the crowd of officials and about 30 residents who attended Friday’s press conference at City Hall. “It’s really great a great opportunity to have a chance to come here and have a part in making Canton reach its potential.”
Following the press conference, he said he was a qualified candidate and planned to speak with the council members against hiring him to sway them in his favor.
“I have a decade of government experience,” said Peppers, who was with Woodstock from 2005 to 2012. “I’ve spent well over half of that in local government. I may not have the title of city manager or assistant city manager behind me, but I think what I do bring to the table is the ability to work with a team, the ability to work with elected officials and appointed officials and to create partnerships.”
Peppers added his experience with helping Woodstock vastly improve its downtown would be a benefit in his role with Canton.
Councilman Bill Grant introduced Peppers at the press conference and said the fact that Peppers had never been a city manager was actually a positive.
“He doesn’t bring a set agenda on how to manage a city, as he will not be leaning on the comforts of what he did in another town,” Grant said. “He works as though he operates a corporation, so he’ll be looking for efficient, cost-effective, customer-centered strategies to manage Canton.”
Resident Jack Fincher spoke up during the press conference, saying he believed in Peppers.
“From what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen, I’m really impressed,” Fincher said.
Councilwoman Sandy McGrew said Thursday night she felt Peppers deserved a chance, making her one of two council members in his favor, along with Grant.
The rest of the council members don’t feel Peppers’ experience is enough to take the reins of the city.
Cummins said during the council’s meeting Thursday that the candidate — whose name wasn’t announced publicly until Friday — was chosen over other more-qualified candidates.
“This process, in my opinion, was that we picked the candidate and went through the motions,” Cummins said, adding that he had no interest in staying on as the permanent city manager.
Councilman John Rust said after the meeting the candidate was “totally unqualified.”
“Absolutely not,” he said. “Nice guy, great guy. He’s not qualified.”
Of eight candidates interviewed for the job, Rust said Peppers was the only one interviewed twice and that his name had been on the table since before the city manager search committee was even formed in mid-January.
Councilman Jack Goodwin said after the meeting: “This person is a great person, but I don’t think the qualifications are there.” He added the process of finding a new city manager wasn’t proper.
Rust brought up the topic of Peppers’ candidacy during the meeting Thursday following an executive session. He motioned to keep Cummins on as acting city manager until June 30, so Canton employees could have some certainty after months of “turmoil” since Wood resigned Jan. 2.
Rust’s motion passed 3-2, with McGrew and Grant against it and Cummins abstaining.
Councilman Hooky Huffman said before the vote that he didn’t understand the purpose of agreeing to keep Cummins on until June 30 because if no city manager had been chosen by then, Cummins would still be in that role anyway. He changed his mind at the last minute, although he disagreed that employees had been through turmoil.
Asked Friday afternoon, Huffman said Peppers is qualified for many things — just not city manager.
“Billy is a tremendous person. He’s a wonderful man. He’s got a bright future in front of him,” Huffman said. “He just doesn’t have the experience.”