City of Rock Hill Names New Manager

New city manager has spent most of his life in Rock Hill, and brings many skills to job.

To say that David Vehaun has deep roots in Rock Hill is something of an understatement. After reviewing more than 80 prospects from around the nation for the Rock Hill City manager’s job, the City Council chose Vehaun, who has lived and worked in Rock Hill his entire life.

The announcement that Vehaun, currently assistant city manager, was the choice for the job was made noon Wednesday during a ceremony at City Hall. He was one of three finalists, including Ray Gosack, deputy city administrator for Fort Smith, Ark., and Jimmy Bagley, another local candidate, who is the utilities chief for the city.

Vehaun, 46, is son of a Baptist pastor and grew up in a working-class neighborhood off Cherry Road called Rock Hill Homes, now known as Catawba Terrace. He attended local schools and graduated from Winthrop University with honors.

The only years he spent away from Rock Hill were the two years at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where he earned a master’s degree.

Fresh out of college, Vehaun caught the eye of longtime assistant city manager Gerry Schapiro, who hired him in 1986 to work for the city. Schapiro groomed Vehaun for the city manager’s post, and Vehaun was a willing apprentice, who recently said that the city manager’s job was a lifetime ambition.

Vehaun was a math whiz growing up, and that talent has blossomed in his work for the city, where he is known as a financial wizard. He was instrumental in the city’s earning a higher bond rating in 2008 and in devising financing plans for projects such as Manchester Meadows soccer complex and for roads, water lines and improvements at Riverwalk, a planned community at the site of the former Celanese plant.

Vehaun won praise from Mayor Doug Echols for his ability to articulate a vision for the city’s future during the interview process. Clearly, Vehaun brings a deep and long-held commitment to the community to his new job.

During Wednesday’s ceremony, Vehaun said he is committed to ensuring an open government, which he terms an “important core value.” That is a welcome pledge.

Carey Smith, the man Vehaun will replace, has been a highly effective city manager in most respects. However, a tendency toward secrecy and reluctance to reveal the city’s intentions in several situations proved to be misstep that, in the end, was counterproductive to good government.

Failure to fully inform the public in choosing a new site for a city landfill ended in a still-unresolved battle with York County. Passage of downtown jaywalking laws was a cover for efforts to help a restaurant gain a license to sell alcohol. And residents in three neighborhoods just outside the city limits claim the city has used underhanded methods to annex their property.

A more straightforward approach in each case might have avoided or at least mitigated those disagreements. And we are grateful that Vehaun chose to emphasize his commitment to open government as one of his first acts as the designated city manager.

His talents with financing, his intimate knowledge not only of the city operation but also the community it serves, and his experience under three different city managers also should be invaluable assets in his new job.

Congratulations to him and to both Bagley and Gosack. The city is fortunate to have had such a talented pool from which to choose its new city manager.

Courtesy of The Herald