Billy Peppers notified the city in a letter he was withdrawing as a candidate, after being chosen the front-runner of 41 applicants by a selection committee formed to find a replacement for former City Manager Scott Wood.
Peppers was announced as the sole candidate last Friday and endured scrutiny of his qualifications, with two-thirds of the city council saying the 32-year-old didn’t have the experience needed for the job.
“The search committee announcement has generated a philosophical discussion among individual council members in regard to the attributes they desire in a city manager,” Peppers, former director of economic development in Woodstock, wrote in the letter. “I believe for the city of Canton to move forward, consensus in vision and teamwork is imperative. I whole-heartedly support this process that you are undertaking and appreciate both the consideration and confidence more than I can say.”
The city council had been set to take up Peppers’ candidacy at its work session April 3 and then vote on hiring him during its meeting April 17. But all members of the council, except Bill Grant and Sandy McGrew, expressed their feelings that Peppers wasn’t qualified, partly because he had never been a city manager.
Mayor Gene Hobgood, who advocated for Peppers, said Thursday he was disappointed.
“I think we certainly missed a great opportunity here,” Hobgood said, adding that Peppers was the most promising of the 41 applicants. “We picked the best of the lot, I feel. It was very, very obvious he would be popular in the public. I didn’t have any negative comments. The only negative came from the council.”
Hobgood said he felt some of the skepticism about Peppers could have been his young age of 32.
“It’s not about age. Unfortunately, I think some thought it might have been. Some people are very mature at 25, and some are not very mature at 50,” said the mayor, who served as the sole Cherokee County commissioner when he was in his 30s. “I’m disappointed, but we’ll move on. It’s always been (Peppers’) decision from the beginning, knowing the odds and knowing the risks.”
Peppers works as director of downtown development for the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and lives with his family just outside the Canton city limits. He is credited by some with helping Woodstock vastly improve its downtown during his time with the city.
The council will now have to decide whether to revisit other candidates or seek more applications, council members said.
Councilman Hooky Huffman, who was on the selection committee with Grant and Hobgood, said he felt for Peppers after the candidate had to endure public scrutiny from council members.
“It saddens me to have a fine young man like Billy Peppers go out on a limb like this,” said Huffman, who felt the candidate was qualified for many things, but not city manager. “It’s a little bit of an embarrassment for our city.”
Peppers would have been stepping in to permanently fill the shoes of interim City Manager Glen Cummins, a city council member, who was hired temporarily in January, after Wood resigned. Cummins, who is making $10,000 a month, had also not been a city manager previously but had management experience in the private sector.
Cummins said Thursday he thought Peppers’ decision was wise.
“I think he made a good decision … because I don’t think he would have been approved,” Cummins said, adding that he thought Peppers may someday be qualified to manage a city like Canton. “Essentially, he’d be learning the job. Honestly, we don’t need somebody to learn the job. We need somebody to come in and do the job.”
While Cummins and other council members feel the city has been moving in the right direction since he took over as interim city manager, Cummins says he isn’t interested in taking the job permanently.
“It’s a young man’s position,” he said. “If I were 20 years younger, I might — or probably would — throw my hat in the ring.”
Grant said he couldn’t blame Peppers for pulling his name from consideration.
“Given the climate, it doesn’t surprise me,” the councilman said Thursday. “I’m disappointed, obviously. I’m disappointed for the citizens of Canton because I think he would have done a great job.”