By Dave Ongie, Managing Editor
Johnson City Commissioners gathered for a special called meeting last Thursday morning confident they had found the perfect fit to take over the reins as city manager.
A few whirlwind days with the five finalists for the position left a clear favorite – Asheville assistant city manager Cathy Ball. Commissioner Jenny Brock nominated her on Thursday morning, Vice-Mayor Todd Fowler seconded the nomination and the Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to extend Ball a job offer.
If negotiations are successful, Ball will replace current city manager Pete Peterson, who announced his intentions in the spring to retire at the end of this year. If she accepts the offer, Ball will be the first female city manager in Johnson City’s history.
While the conclusion of the nationwide search may have seemed swift, Fowler stressed during Thursday’s early-morning meeting that the process of selecting a new city manager had been an exhaustive endeavor.
“I know this seems like this was very fast, but we’ve been getting information for months,” Fowler said, adding that 34 candidates had been narrowed down to 11and eventually five with hours of video interviews and over 1,200 pages of background information weighing into the final decision.
“The last part was the only thing that was kind of compressed just because of our time constraints,” Fowler said.
Wise stressed the importance of the city manager position before opening the floor to nominations, noting that the city manager plays a key role in determining the corporate culture of the city. Brock added that Ball’s leadership and communication skills both helped set her apart from the other four finalists during a rigorous three-day interview process.
“In all of those sessions, one candidate rose to the top,” Brock said. “I am very honored to make a motion that we extend an offer to Cathy Ball.”
Even though the city launched a national search with the help of Strategic Government Resources out of Keller, Texas, Ball’s connection to our region appeared to play a very important role in her selection. Peterson, who has worked for the city for 30 years, including the last 16 as city manager, is a native of Johnson City. His familiarity with Johnson City and the region has no doubt helped informhis decision-making process.
Likewise, Ball was born in Unicoi County and spent her formative years there. “She’s also home grown, growing up in Erwin, so is very versed in the culture of East Tennessee,” Brock said.
Ball started her career in Greenville, South Carolina, as an assistant city engineer in 1988 before moving over to Asheville, North Carolina, in 1997. She moved up the ranks in Asheville from City Engineer to Public Works Director to Assistant City Manager in 2013. Ball served briefly as interim city manager in Asheville in 2018.
Brock pointed out that each promotion included a hefty increase in responsibilities, which Brock and her fellow commissioners believe prepared Ball to handle the day-to-day administrative duties in Johnson City.
“Cathy Ball stood out as a candidate that really understood our community, our needs and had a vision as how to address those,” said commissioner John Hunter.
When news broke that Ball had been offered the job, the City of Asheville issued a statement. “The City of Asheville is aware of the action taken by the City Council of Johnson City, Tenn. City leadership is proud of Cathy Ball for making it this far in the selection process and communication will be forthcoming if the negotiations are successful.”
If Ball accepts the job, she will be the second assistant city manager Ashville has lost in the last two months. Former Asheville assistant manager Richard White III left to take a job as town manager of Carrboro, North Carolina in August.