By Dave Ongie
With a quality list of applicants winnowed from nine names to three, two members of the Johnson City Board of Commissioners convened on Monday night to learn more about the finalists before selecting one of them to serve the final two years of Ralph Van Brocklin’s term.
Vice-mayor Jenny Brock and commissioner Joe Wise sat down inside the Municipal and Safety Building following a brief agenda review meeting to interview Dr. Larry Calhoun, David Lefemine and Rev. Lester Lattany. Mayor David Tomita and commissioner Todd Fowler did not take part in the interviews.
Despite the fact that he was absent on Monday night, Tomita said earlier in the day that the plan is to make a selection and introduce the new commissioner at Thursday’s regularly called meeting.
“We have to,” Tomita said on Monday afternoon. “It’s vitally important we get somebody into that position.”
Following a change to the city charter in 2014, the onus to fill Van Brocklin’s seat fell on the commissioners. With no clear process in place, there was some discussion about whether or not to issue an open call for applications. In the end, Wise and Brock’s insistence on a thorough search won the day, and interested applicants were encouraged to send a letter of interest by Oct. 1.
That call for applicants yielded nine names, and the commissioners were clearly impressed with the folks who came forward to apply for the job. In addition to the three finalists, Nancy Fischman, Michael Davenport, Don Hembree, Jonathan Kinnick, Dr. Mike Marchioni, Pete Paduch were also considered for the post.
“If you look at the whole field of nine, you have a school board member, you have a former mayor, you’ve got a former municipal judge, you’ve got a retired executive director of the United Way, you’ve got the dean emeritus of the pharmacy school,” Wise said. “It’s a top quality list regardless of how the process shakes out, and I think that says something good about Johnson City.”
On Monday night, Brock and Wise interviewed each finalist individually, spending roughly 45 minutes with each candidate. They started with Calhoun, the founding dean of ETSU’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, before interviewing Lefemine, who is well acquainted with city government after serving on a multitude of boards and planning committees for the last 27 years. Lattany was the final interviewee. Like Lefemine, Lattany has experience working in city government and also served as the CEO of the United Way of Washington County.
Brock said the goal of the search has been to replicate the election process as closely as possible. After some consideration, each commissioner submitted two names, and the three finalists emerged as a result of their names being selected by all four commissioners.
On Monday, Brock and Wise tried to feel out the candidates on a variety of issues, including the role of the commission, qualities of an effective commission, opportunities for the city to spur economic growth and each candidate’s leadership principles.
“We all have to answer questions and come forward to state why I feel like I’m qualified and why I’d make a good commissioner,” Brock said. “We wanted to do that and keep it a very open process, and transparent so the people could see what we’re doing.”