The Sylva Town Board on Friday voted 3-2 to hire a new town manager with a background in planning.
The board hired Adrienne Isenhower to replace former Manager Jay Denton who was fired in September. Isenhower is currently a planner for the city of Lenoir, population 17,000. She has a master’s degree in public administration from Appalachian State University.
“I think she has great qualifications, and her background fits us perfectly,” said Commissioner Stacy Knotts.
Knotts noted that the board was looking for a manager with a planning background. Sylva currently does not have a town planner, after philosophical differences led to the departure of the former town planner last fall. The town board opted not to hire a new planner, but instead look for a town manager with planning expertise who could fill both roles.
Lenoir News-Topic Local Editor Paul Teague has covered Isenhower’s work with the planning department and said she is a “top flight person.”
“She will do an outstanding job for Sylva,” said Teague. “She knows her stuff.”
Teague said Isenhower pays attention to detail and “eats, sleeps and breathes municipal government.”
Teague said he knew it wouldn’t be long before Isenhower left for an advancement in her career. Isenhower has done much to improve Lenoir’s downtown, Teague added.
Vote not unanimous
Town Commissioners Harold Hensley and Ray Lewis voted against hiring Isenhower, saying she lacks the experience necessary for the job, particularly in managing a budget.
“I didn’t think she had the experience,” said Hensley.
Hensley noted that Isenhower just graduated from college in 2006 and has only been working as a planner for the past few years. Hensley said Isenhower has no experience in finances that he knows of.
“For the taxpayers’ money it seems like we should have gotten someone with more experience,” Hensley said. “The people on the losing end are the taxpayers of Jackson County.”
Since the position was advertised in the fall there were 98 applications received, according to the town clerk’s office.
Hensley also disagrees with the new manager making $60,678 a year when former manager Denton made $53,694. And Hensley said, “Jay had lots of experience.”
Commissioner Lewis has similar complaints as Hensley.
“I didn’t think she had the experience,” said Lewis, questioning her salary. “I think that’s a little high for as much experience as she has.”
Lewis said Isenhower has no experience with town finance or budgeting and that he doesn’t know how she can do the job without those skills.
Commissioner Sarah Graham admitted that Isenhower has no experience directly managing a town budget. But Graham said she thinks Isenhower will do an excellent job.
“She’s got the qualifications we are looking for,” said Graham.
Those qualifications include a master’s degree in public administration, and experience working as a planner. Planners from larger cities often advance their careers by moving on to be manager of a small town.
“This will be her first position as a city manager,” Graham stated.
Asked why Isenhower is making more than Denton, Graham said, “Because that’s what we’re offering the manager this time around.”
The reason she is getting paid more than Denton is that Isenhower is really filling two jobs — one as manager and one as planner, said Knotts.
Maurice Moody agreed that Isenhower was the best applicant.
But he admitted that she probably does lack experience in budgeting. “I don’t think budgeting is her strongpoint,” said Moody.
But Moody said there is already a well-qualified individual in the finance office handling most of those issues, whose official title is assistant finance officer and tax collector. While ultimately budget oversight lies with the town manager, Graham said Isenhower has “ample experience” to perform that role.
Isenhower could not be reached for comment. She is scheduled to begin in May.
Other than Isenhower’s current job, she also had an internship with the city of Lenoir in 2006, an internship with the town of Troy in 2004 and an internship with the town of Boone in 2003, according to her resume provided by the town.