While a lone candidate has been named the finalist for the Canton city manager position, the choice has been met with some reservation by those who serve on the City Council.
Canton Mayor Gene Hobgood, flanked by Council members Bill Grant and Sandy McGrew, announced Friday morning that Cherokee resident Billy Peppers, 31, is the finalist for the position, which has been vacant since the resignation of Scott Wood.
The announcement was made in front of dozens of Canton residents, leaders and stakeholders who all packed into the lobby of Canton City Hall to hear the news.
The city received 41 applications — 12 of which were from out-of-state applicants — and the city manager search committee interviewed eight applicants.
Hobgood didn't mince words to demonstrate how he felt about the finalist. While Peppers lacks the managerial experience, he makes up for it with his "enthusiasm," his knowledge of local government and his knowledge of state resources, the mayor said.
Any candidate for the city manager position, Hobgood added, has to have a vision for the city, experience with creating a vibrant downtown with the highest quality of economic development.
"I believe he will give the city the energy that we need to move forward towards that vision," Hobgood added.
Peppers will be on hand for April 3 work session and the council could vote to appoint Peppers in the role. If appointed, Peppers could begin on or around May 1, the mayor added.
Grant, who introduced Peppers, added he believed Peppers' current position with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs more than prepares him for the city manager position.
"The number one thing in my mind that qualifies this candidate is through this process he’s exhibited amazing grace under fire and that’s exactly what we want in a city manager," he added.
Peppers, who addressed the crowd briefly, said he was eager to continue through the process, and further discuss the position with other council members.
He noted he is also excited about the chance to help Canton "reach its potential."
"Over the last couple of years...I've had a lot of opportunity to visit a lot of cities around our state and I've seen a lot of great things and I think Canton has so much potential and it would tickle me to to death to be part of that process to get you to the next level," he added.
Peppers, 31, currently works with roughly 170 communities across the state in his current role at DCA, and said he loves "seeing communities reach their potential," helping them build their plan and helping them put it in action.
"To me, there is no better calling than public service," he said, adding he likes finding solutions to make things happen.
Peppers graduated from the University of Georgia in 2004 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Peppers started work with the city of Woodstock in 2005 as the executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. In 2008, he was named Woodstock's director of economic services and served as the city's Main Street Director.
In November 2012, Peppers left the city of Woodstock to become the special assistant for Community Development & Finance Division at the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
He and wife Julie Peppers, a teacher at Knox Elementary School, live just outside of Canton with their two sons, Turner and Jennings.
While the finalist announcement was greeted with nothing short of praise by the crowd that gathered at the press conference, at least four Canton City Council members are not too sure if Peppers is the right man for the job.
Interim City Manager and City Councilman Glen Cummins, along with Council members Jack Goodwin, John Rust and Hooky Huffman, said they don't believe Peppers has enough experience for the position.
The council last night voted 3-2-1, with McGrew and Grant opposing and Cummins abstaining, to extend the interim's role until June 30.
"In my opinion, he does not have the necessary experience, qualifications, and background for this position," Cummins said, adding the city is considering a "great basketball player" for an NFL quarterback position.
Rust added he appreciates the "stability" Cummins has brought to the city. With regards to Peppers, Rust stated he's "a very nice man, but totally unqualified for the job they want to hire him for."
Goodwin said it wouldn't be fair to place Peppers in the position of city manager, as he believes he doesn't have the tools necessary to run Canton. He added the city should go back and reconsider other qualified candidates.
Huffman said keeping Cummins on for a few more months will ensure the city has a seamless start to its fiscal year 2015 budget planning process.
He added he felt Peppers has done excellent work in the economic development realm.
"Unfortunately what we are looking for is someone who has experience with running a city," he added, noting there isn't another person better than Peppers when it comes to economic development.
When asked if he believed he would be convinced Peppers is the right person for the job, Huffman was lukewarm to the idea.
"I'll always keep my ears open, but I will still say it’s a long shot right now," he added.
Peppers isn't taking those reservations personally. With a decade of experience with working in government, half of which was spent at the local level, Peppers said he feels confident in his abilities.
"I may not have the title of city manager or assistant city manager behind me, but I think what I do bring to the table is the ability to work with a team, the ability to work with the elected officials and appointed officials and create partnerships," he said. "And I think if you can do that, I think you can run a city."