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Bill Watkins to retire after five years as city manager

"Personal reasons" cited for decision
Tuesday, October 5, 2010 | 11:11 a.m. CDT; updated 10:24 p.m. CST, Sunday, November 7, 2010
City Manager Bill Watkins speaks to members of the press and public about Columbia's new budget.

COLUMBIA — Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins announced Tuesday that he will retire in March. 

“Last night, I notified the City Council that I intend to retire in five months,” Watkins, 57, said during a news conference on Tuesday morning. “It is my desire to slow down a little bit.”

Watkins said that five months should be sufficient time for the council to find his replacement and make the transition to a new administration. He said he will be retiring because of personal reasons, but he did not want to elaborate. He said his departure has nothing to do with the relatively new makeup of the City Council.

“It is absolutely true that a city manager’s job in a city like Columbia is kind of like a second marriage,” Watkins said.

First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said he was not surprised by Watkins' announcement.

"I think Bill more or less has been sending signals in the last six months to a year that because of his family situation, he will probably be needing to take a leave of absence or need to retire," Sturtz said. "I think he really enjoyed his job, and he let us know that if his family situation was any different, he would enjoy staying on for much longer."

Sturtz reaffirmed that Watkins' retirement has nothing to do with the mayor or the City Council. He also said the relationship between the city manager and the council is respectful.

"I think we all had differences from time to time, but Bill is a very civil and reasonable fellow," Sturtz said. "He has a tremendous grasp on the city's operations, finances and the very complex organism that city government is."

Mayor Bob McDavid said that Watkins informed him of the possibility of his retirement four months ago.

“He will be leaving the city of Columbia in great shape,” McDavid said. 

Watkins said he decided to wait until the new budget was finished to make his decision. He said he began to think about retirement in early spring.

"The most challenging times for the council is to get through the budget,” McDavid said. "This is a complex organization, and I thank Mr. Watkins for making a commitment to get us through the most recent budget process.”

“I assure you that this decision was not made in haste,” Watkins said. 

McDavid said the council will engage in a nationwide search to find the next city manager. 

“There will be internal and external candidates,” McDavid said.

He said the city will hire an executive search firm in the next month. It hopes to eventually have a final list of three to five candidates to present to the City Council.

“It will be difficult to replace Mr. Watkins,” McDavid said. "But one of the good things about a good executive is that he will always make it easy to replace himself.”

McDavid said he is looking for someone who is skilled in handling multiple constituencies, has experience and understands the culture of government.

Sturtz said he hopes the new city manager will have strengths in financial management and economic development, both qualities that he sees in Watkins.

"It's not as if we can just fill out this profile of the perfect human being," Sturtz said. "It is an extremely challenging position, and Bill did it to the best of his ability."

“At the end of the day, this is a great town, this is a great job, and I expect to see many qualified candidates,” McDavid said.

The mayor said there will be lots of input from the people of Columbia in this process.

“This will be a council decision, but it will be a decision made with substantial input from the citizens of Columbia,” McDavid said. 

Watkins said he is looking to officially retire at the March 7 City Council meeting, but if the process takes longer, he will wait.

Watkins intends to stay in Columbia after he retires.

 


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