LUMBERTON — The City Council will interview two candidates for city attorney this week, although not all council members agree with how the finalists were chosen.
More than 15 people responded to the city’s ad for a new attorney to oversee its legal affairs and serve as a legal adviser. The finalists’ names are not being released because of concerns for their current jobs.
Interviews will be held Thursday but it has not been decided when the new city attorney will take office.
Rob Price has served as the interim city attorney since James Bryan resigned the post in May, saying he wanted to be closer to his wife, who was living in Orange County. According to Mayor Raymond Pennington, the group of applicants was narrowed to two by James Moore, the head of Human Resources for the city. Candidates who did not meet the minimum qualifications were eliminated, Pennington said.
In previous years, the council met to discuss each applicant’s qualifications before deciding who to interview and ultimately appoint a city attorney. The council did not meet to discuss this year’s pool, but members were given copies of each candidate’s resume and application.
Councilman Erich Hackney, who represents Precinct 8, thinks the decision has been all but made by the mayor and the Human Resources Department without input from the council.
“He has tainted and compromised the entire selection process for city attorney and has used the staff to manipulate it to get what he wanted and that’s not how we do government,” Hackney said of Pennington.
Hackney said Pennington has tried to sway the council’s support towards one candidate.
“Having interviews now is a waste of time and serves no purpose other than giving the impression of legitimacy,” said Hackney, who worries the council will find itself “in an uncomfortable situation based on” federal laws concerning equal opportunity to employment.
Pennington said he did call some council members to talk about filling the position, but that there is no single front-runner in his mind. Five councilmen who were interviewed said the mayor only asked if they objected to a former employee of the city applying for the position.
“We have to either select one of the two or pass on both of them and restart the search,” Pennington said.
Don Metzger, Precinct 1’s councilman, says the council should have met to discuss each applicant for the sake of protocol and fairness.
“We’ve not really had a chance as a council … to give our opinions,” said Metzger. He said the issue isn’t “anything to throw stones about,” describing his attitude about the situation as “cool.”
“We’ve drug this process out long enough, it’s time we deal with it,” he said. Metzger said resumes have been coming in for the position for about six months.
John Cantey, Precinct 5’s councilman, and the final two candidates are the most qualified.
“If there is any opposition towards any applicant in particular … probably it’s more of a personal issue,” Cantey said.