Just a little more than six weeks after longtime Harker Heights City Manager Steve Carpenter announced his retirement effective Dec. 31, the city has hired his successor.
In selecting David Mitchell, the City Council chose to go with a proven commodity, a sensible move in many respects.
Mitchell worked as a city planner and managing assistant under Carpenter from 2004 to 2008, then served another year as the city’s director of planning and development before moving to Hutto to take the assistant city manager’s post. He was promoted to city manager last year.
After Carpenter announced his retirement plans, council members reached out to Mitchell to determine if he was willing to return to Harker Heights.
Surprisingly, the council interviewed and hired Mitchell for the position in less than two hours Tuesday.
It was a somewhat unexpected development, considering Mayor Mike Aycock said at the time of Carpenter’s retirement announcement that city officials were not in a hurry to find his replacement and that they would go about the search in a “slow and methodical” way.
Regardless of the process leading up to Mitchell’s selection, hiring a city manager on the basis of a single 90-minute interview is neither slow nor methodical.
Even if Mitchell was the city’s first choice all along, council members should have taken the time to bring in a few more applicants — if only to be more certain about their final decision.
Indeed, Assistant City Manager Patricia Brunson told the Herald that Mitchell was the only applicant interviewed for the $120,000 position.
Contrast that with the process by which Carpenter was hired in February 1994.
Carpenter, who at the time was serving as assistant city manager of Farmer’s Branch, was the last of four finalists to be interviewed from a field of more than 90 applicants. During that process, the council met daily in executive session for nearly a week to conduct the interviews and discuss their selection.
None of this is to say that Mitchell is not the right fit for the city manager’s post. At 41, he is young and energetic and has worked closely with Carpenter on several major planning projects.
Carpenter recognized Mitchell’s potential and encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree in public administration, which Mitchell earned from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2006.
Mitchell also gained valuable experience during his tenure in Hutto, a fast-growing town just east of Round Rock. Under his leadership, the city received several awards for excellence in budget presentation and planning and a statewide award for emergency management.
But the fact remains that Mitchell’s experience serving in municipal government is relatively limited — less than 10 years in Heights and Hutto combined.
When Carpenter was hired in Harker Heights, he already had 19 years of experience in municipal government, including nine years as assistant city manager in Farmer’s Branch and a stint as city manager in Hearne.
During Carpenter’s nearly two decades in Harker Heights, he has spearheaded several major infrastructure projects and overseen a boom in commercial and residential development that has transformed the city’s profile.
Commercial developments during his tenure include Walmart, Furniture Row, Rooms to Go and the 650,000-square-foot Market Heights shopping center.
Carpenter also was instrumental in bringing the city its first hospital, the 88-bed Seton Medical Center-Harker Heights.
In addition, he advanced several park projects that enhanced the quality of life.
In short, Mitchell will have some big shoes to fill when he takes over for Carpenter on Jan. 2.
Mitchell told the Herald last week he has a passion for the city and is glad to be returning. Apparently, council members feel the same way — and that’s important if the council and new city manager are to have a good working relationship.
If Mitchell can build on Carpenter’s impressive legacy, it won’t matter that his hiring was a quick choice — only that it was the right one.