VILLA RICA, Ga. - The city of Villa Rica has hired a new city manager, a decision that became more newsworthy because of what happened to the guy in charge of screening the candidates.
Interim city manager Mike Jackson lost his job after allegations he was ignoring black applicants because he didn't think Villa Rica was ready for its first black city manager.
It came during a FOX 5 I-Team investigation. In March we filed an open records request asking for notes taken by the Villa Rica human resources director detailing instructions Jackson gave her to screen city manager applications. Jackson was not a candidate.
According to those notes, Jackson said to ignore all black applicants because “Villa Rica was not ready for a black city manager and did not want to get their hopes up by interviewing them.”
The HR director's notes show that two weeks later Jackson “handed an application back to me, with a yellow sticky note w/ No! Written on it, when it was handed back, he made the comment that he was black.”
Jackson told us the suggestion Villa Rica was not ready for a black city manager came from staff, not him. But the mayor says Jackson admitted to him he did make that statement. The city ultimately hired an outside firm to screen the candidates.
“I didn't feel any pressure to hire an African-American," Villa Rica mayor Jeff Reese declared. "But I did feel the pressure to hire the properly qualified individual.”
That man he says is Tom Barber, the former Fairburn city manager. Barber aims to help redevelop Villa Rica's downtown and improve the water capacity. He really wanted this job, in spite of the language that sent the previous boss packing.
“It's not how governments work," he asserted. "I mean, anywhere."
Barber is white. In the end, only one of the four finalists for the job was black. He took himself out of the running when Villa Rica declined to pay his travel expenses from Illinois. He was also the only one of the four who did not live in Georgia.
“As long as I can remember we have not paid to fly someone in for an interview," explained Mayor Reese.
He said the city didn't pay travel expenses for the other candidates who drove in or spent the night in Villa Rica. He says flying in the lone black candidate would have cost the city as much as $1000 in food, travel, and lodging.
The city's lone black council member doesn't agree with the mayor's decision.
“If he was considered in the top four, then he should have been given a chance," maintained Shirley Marchman.
Villa Rica is more than one-third African-American. Still, Marchman believes it's time to move on.
“Giving him a chance, I think he'll be a good fit for Villa Rica," she stated.
Maybe both ways.
“I think this is a really good fit," agreed the new city manager. "Me for them and them for me."