HARKER HEIGHTS — Hutto’s loss is Harker Heights’ gain.
Council members unanimously voted Oct. 29 to hire David Mitchell, Hutto’s current city manager, to replace City Manager Steve Carpenter, who will retire in December from a post he has held since 1994.
“It’s bittersweet for us because we are left high and dry emotionally, but David (Mitchell) has laid the ground work for us on where we can grow and he has elevated our expectation of a city manager going forward,” said Hutto Mayor Debbie Holland.
On Jan. 2, Mitchell will pick up where Carpenter leaves off, with an annual salary of $120,000.
Consistent with contract terms that require a 30-day written notification, Mitchell’s last day with Hutto will be Dec. 31, allowing the council time to locate his replacement.
Mitchell said giving his resignation notice was not easy.
“It was a hard day for me and my employees,” Mitchell said. “I had a great staff here and that’s what makes this move even harder.”
Mitchell, 41, is no stranger to Harker Heights. He served the city in a number of capacities from 2004 to 2009, including director of planning and development and as Carpenter’s assistant.
Carpenter was not surprised when Mitchell left Heights. He said Mitchell was expected to grow, as he planned to pursue a career as a city manager after working under Carpenter.
“I am passionate about this place, and I didn’t leave because I didn’t like it here,” Mitchell said about leaving Heights. “It was something I had to do, career-wise, so coming back to Heights is like a homecoming of sorts for me.”
Mitchell was the only applicant interviewed by the council, which voted to hire him immediately after a 1½-hour interview, said Patty Brunson, assistant city manager.
Mayor Mike Aycock said they “could have interviewed 100 people who were all equally qualified,” but Mitchell was the best fit for Harker Heights. “We know what kind of work he is capable of doing and he has a passion for the city.”
In the “way back” of Carpenter’s mind, he said he had a feeling Mitchell would be the best fit.
“The council thought so too, so they targeted him, and asked him if he was interested because he had expressed that he was open to coming back if the opportunity arose,” Carpenter said.
It didn’t take much to lure Mitchell back to the city.
“My time working in Harker Heights was the best experience of any job I have ever had,” he said. “Before I met Steve, I had no idea what a master’s (degree) in public administration was. I was planning on getting my MBA and going back to work on the private side until he convinced me this is what I was supposed to be doing, and he was right all along.”
Mitchell put his bachelor’s degree in forest resources from Auburn University to use in the forest industry in Georgia for nine years.
After the market for wood took a serious hit as a result of globalization, he said, a move to Texas to be closer to his wife’s Belton-based family helped him change career paths. He got his MPA in 2006 from the University of Texas at Arlington.
“This certainly caught everyone by surprise, but I understood that this is an opportunity for him, since Steve Carpenter was his mentor, but we are sad to lose him because of all that he has done here,” Holland said. “We wish him nothing but the best.”