Some of East Ridge's most outspoken critics of City Hall said they believe newly hired City Manager William Whitson could improve the relationship between local government and the people.
"He's very professional, very organized," said Frances Pope, head of the East Ridge Watchdog citizen advocacy group. "I'm very optimistic."
Mr. Whitson is East Ridge's first city manager to qualify for the position under the city's revised charter, requiring any city manager to have the minimum of a bachelor's degree in public administration and three to five years' experience in municipal government. Deputy City Manager and Public Safety Director Eddie Phillips had held the post since Curtis Adams resigned last summer. Mr. Whitson will receive an annual salary of $112,000, according to his one-year contract with the city approved Jan. 22.
"When I began this (interview) process, I prayed a prayer," he said at a reception in his honor Sunday. "And that prayer was that God would open the door for me to find not only my next position, but for me to find a home. And I feel that God has answered my prayer."
Mr. Whitson previously served as interim budget director for Panama City, Fla. He also was the city manager for Cairo, Ga., and assistant city manager for Port Orange, Fla.
During his first week on the job, he said he met one-on-one with members of the City Council and plans to talk with residents to get their input on the future of the city.
"I like to have people who are well-informed, that want to be part of the process," he said. "We won't always agree, but I would much rather have those citizens there, holding us to task, asking the questions, and I will be very active and very forthright in reaching out to them."
A workshop will be held at 5:30 p.m. March 12 to discuss priorities for his first year on the job.
David Curd, president of the East Ridge Merchants Association, said he hoped Mr. Whitson's outsider's perspective might help forge new solutions to old problems.
"It's a change," he said. "We've always had people who were local and came from the local area. And now it's someone who's new, who's not from our area, who can bring new ideas."