Columbia city manager to retire in March 2011

Bill Watkins has been city manager since 2006.
Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins reviews proposed budget amendments on a projector during a meeting Aug. 30 at Columbia City Hall. On Tuesday, Watkins announced he would retire in March 2011. Maneater File Photo

Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins announced Tuesday he will retire in March 2011.

Watkins said in a special conference held at City Hall he has been proud to work for the city as city manager, and he expects five months to be enough time to find a replacement. He said he has been considering the decision for about four months and announced it to the City Council last night.

Watkins said he plans to stay in Columbia with his wife Kathy and will remain with the council when a predecessor is found to help make the transition easier.

"I will probably miss the people the most," Watkins said.

Mayor Bob McDavid said an executive search firm would be looking for candidates internally and externally. The firm will select a list of three to five finalists, who will meet with the public and then be filed down to one. McDavid said the public would have a large amount of input in deciding the new city manager.

He said both internal and external candidates would be considered because each have different things to offer.

"If you hire from within you bring in institutional knowledge," McDavid said. "Hiring externally brings new ideas."

McDavid said he is looking for three things in a new city manager: skills in dealing with people and relationships, executive experience and an understanding of government culture. First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz said in an interview after the conference Watkin's announcement was not completely surprising.

"To be honest, I think he had gotten some signals over the last few months that he would not be around too much longer," Sturtz said. "I guess I'm not terribly surprised."

Sturtz said he was hopeful a suitable replacement could be found.

"Hopefully we can find someone who understands Columbia's values and can push the city forward in a positive way," Sturtz said. "I think the hope is that we would offer new city manager job in late February so they can start sometime in the spring."

Sturtz said he does not know of anyone the firm would be looking at internally. Watkins said it was time for him to move into retirement and step back from his "second marriage" to the city. He said one of his proudest achievements with the city was the Vision Commission, which shapes the city's goals.

That project began in May 2006 and brought together the ideas of more than 1,000 citizens. Those ideas eventually became the "Final Vision Report," which intended to better the community as a whole. Watkins assumed duties as city manager in January 2006, having served as assistant city manager since 1995. Before that he had worked as part of the city's economic development staff since July 1988.

Watkins has also worked at the Chamber of Commerce in Springfield, Ohio, and was the city manager of Wood River, Ill., and Newton Falls, Ohio.

Watkins is an MU graduate with bachelor's and master's degrees in public administration. While in college at MU, he worked as an intern and administrative assistant in the city manager's office.

Watkins is a member of the International City/County Management Association and the Missouri City Management Association. He and his wife have four children.

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