While Purcellville’s search for a permanent town manager is moving forward as originally planned, the town might be hiring another interim town manager in the coming weeks.
Currently, Director of Administration Hooper McCann is filling in as a temporary interim town manager, replacing Alex Vanegas, who was placed on administrative leave last Tuesday pending an investigation into his conduct. Mayor Kwasi Fraser told staff last week, however, that the town would hire a paid professional to serve as the interim town manager “as soon as possible.”
“This individual will work with the department heads, management team and staff to keep the town moving in a forward direction,” he said. “I don’t want this to be a long-term position for Hooper.”
McCann was appointed to the position not because of any town policy, but because of the natural progression of command. “As the administration department head, it just naturally fell to me,” she said.
Fraser said the town has been searching for a new interim town manager internally and within the community. While two individuals have already stepped up, Fraser said they have to be vetted.
McCann said she plans to present Town Council on Dec. 12 with additional suggestions on where to find qualified candidates. She said an experienced interim town manager could help with the transition process for the permanent town manager.
“I’m looking at a few different agencies,” she said. “In my mind, it would be best for us to have a more experienced interim – the town needs it.”
Councilwoman Karen Jimmerson said the pressure of being in two roles needs to be taken off of McCann so she can continue her job as the director of administration.
“Hooper has a very defined and necessary job,” Jimmerson said. “I would prefer to bring somebody else in so she can continue doing the job that she has.”
A new interim town manager would be in town for a short period of time, since a permanent town manager should be hired by early 2018.
“The goal is by the end of January we should have a new town manager,” Fraser said.
Councilman Ryan Cool, who was appointed in September to help lead the search for a permanent town manager, said the hiring process is moving forward as it has been planned for weeks.
“We are currently receiving applications,” he said. “So far, I am pleased with the applications we are receiving, and look forward to the process going forward.”
Cool said at the Oct. 24 Town Council Meeting he expects the hire to be made by February. Jimmerson said the beginning of March would be more likely.
The investigation of Vanegas is also expected to take about another month and a half to complete. Fraser said he hoped it concludes by the end of January.
If Vanegas is reinstated at that point, he could return to work. By then, however, a new interim town manager would most likely be in place and a permanent town manager should be on the way in.
Fraser said there is too much uncertainty surrounding the investigation at this point for anything to be said about Vanegas’ potential return.
One scenario could have Vanegas returning as the director of public works, the same position he held before being appointed to interim town manger in May, following the retirement of 24-year town manager Rob Lohr. Dale Lehnig, the manager of capital projects and engineering, has acted as the interim public works director since May.
Vanegas said if the investigation into his conduct is handled independently and not internally, everything would work out in his favor. He said he might not want to return, though because of the negativity.
“I really have to think about it and talk to my attorney,” he said. “I’ll play it by ear.”
Vanegas was placed on administrative leave Nov. 21 so the town could investigate allegations that he was involved in an inappropriate personal relationship with the human resources consultant he hired to help lead the investigation of Police Chief Cynthia McAlister in August.
Until a new interim town manager is hired, McCann plans to remain in the role. “I will do my absolute best to provide support to staff and the organization in order for us to continue operating at the highest level possible,” she said.
The application deadline for permanent town manager is Jan. 12.