Oak Ridge City Manager Mark Watson is one of four finalists for a similar job in one of the fastest-growing cities in Texas, and officials there could hire someone near the end of January, an official said Monday.
Jon Branson, one of two assistant city managers in Pearland, Texas, said the City Council is tentatively scheduled to conduct some final interviews on or around Jan. 25, and officials hope to have a decision shortly afterward.
Pearland’s current city manager, Bill Eisen, is retiring at the end of the month after 12 years. Branson will be the interim city manager starting Jan. 1, and he will serve until the Pearland City Council hires a new city manager.
Branson said Pearland, which is near Houston, was the second fastest-growing city in Texas between 2001 and now, and the 15th fastest-growing in the nation, according to the 2010 census. The population grew from roughly 40,500 in 2001 to just more than 108,000 now. The growth may not be as rapid in the next five years, but officials do expect a steady increase.
During an end-of-year interview on Friday, Watson, who has worked in Oak Ridge since August 2010, said it’s too early to say whether he would accept the Pearland position if it is offered to him.
“I’m content here in Oak Ridge, and we’ve got a lot of great things to accomplish,” said Watson, who described himself as a change agent.
Watson said there is a nationwide shortage of city managers and a lot of contact between recruiting firms and potential candidates.
Watson has a son Travis who lives in Houston, and he’s managed cities in Texas and Arizona, as well as in Montana. Watson has a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Kansas and is now pursuing a doctorate. When he was hired in Oak Ridge, he was the top pick from a pool of 82 candidates.
In Pearland, recruiting firm Strategic Government Resources supplied the City Council with 48 city manager candidates, Branson said, and the list has since been narrowed down to four finalists. Branson said the candidates have been very qualified. The salary range is negotiable and based upon experience.
Earlier this month, Oak Ridge City Council members said Watson had not sought the Texas job but had been recruited. Citing a range of economic development activities, two of three members interviewed said they hope he stays, while a third questioned his potential departure after recently receiving a 10 percent pay raise.
Branson said Pearland, which is hot and humid most of the time, is southwest of Houston, and the city’s perimeter is about 15 miles from downtown Houston. Pearland has a lot of growth in the medical industry and a large town center with an outdoor mall, and several medical manufacturing companies are moving there, Branson said.
“It’s a very good mix of a variety of different businesses, commercial, and residential,” he said.
Note: This story was updated at 11 a.m. Dec. 29.