Although they still need to vote on the appointment, Johnson City commissioners have singled out Cathy Ball, an assistant city manager in Asheville, as their choice to replace retiring city manager Pete Peterson.
She would be the first woman to serve as city manager in Johnson City.
“All of our candidates had a breadth of senior executive experience in cities,” Johnson City Mayor Joe Wise said after a work session Wednesday evening at City Hall. “What Cathy had was a longer tenure coupled with a broader range of functions.”
Over the course of her career, Ball has worked as a city engineer, director of public works and as an assistant city manager.
After a long search process and two days packed with interviews, commissioners agreed Wednesday that Ball was their top pick. They will meet at 7:15 a.m. Thursday at City Hall to cast their formal vote.
In March, Peterson announced plans to retire at the end of 2021. He has served as city manager for 16 of his roughly 30 years with the city.
In May, the commission voted to hire the search firm Strategic Government Resources to launch a national hunt for Peterson’s replacement.
Last Thursday, Johnson City announced five finalists for his position: Ball, Sarah Hannah-Spurlock, the nighttime economy manager of Fort Lauderdale, Florida; David Johnston, the former city manager of Covington, Kentucky; Chris Lindsey, assistant city manager of Westminster, Colorado; and David Strahl, interim village manager of Schiller Park, Illinois.
Commissioner Jenny Brock said Wednesday that Ball’s experience as a civil engineer would be an asset.
The city is now launching a $33 million overhaul of the West Walnut Street corridor, which leaders expect will spur commercial growth along the road and strengthen the connection between East Tennessee State University and downtown.
“Particularly I think that with that background with the projects we have in front of us she’ll be able to gain a lot of respect from our departments who will be working in that area,” Brock said. “(She) knows how to talk the language and the lingo, but I’m certainly impressed with her leadership and her caring and enthusiasm.”
Commissioner Aaron Murphy described Ball as outgoing and personable.
“I believe she has the experience to help move us along with some community issues that we’re having in various ways,” Murphy said.
Commissioners also identified Lindsey as a strong contender.
“I would say Chris if he were a little older and a little more experienced because I think he is (going to be) a superstar in the future,” said Vice Mayor Todd Fowler.
Ball was also a favorite among members of the public. Survey responses gathered from attendees at a meet and greet Tuesday at the Langston Centre largely identified her as the best choice, pointing to her qualifications and her roots in the community. Responses also singled out Hannah-Spurlock and Lindsey.
Ball grew up in Unicoi County, went to Tennessee Tech University and started her first job in Johnson City with an engineering consulting firm. She worked for the city of Greenville, South Carolina, for nine years before moving to Asheville, where she has served for 24 years.
“I have family in the area and I’ve been able to visit on a regular basis and I see how Johnson City has grown so much,” she said during the event Tuesday at the Langston Centre.
Ball was first a city engineer with Asheville before moving to director of engineering and transportation, then public works director and finally assistant city manager, according to her resume. She served briefly as Asheville’s interim city manager while the city council searched for a permanent hire to fill the role. Ball is also a certified mediator.