Casper City Council has selected Gillette’s administrator to replace V.H. McDonald as city manager, the City of Gillette announced Tuesday night.
Carter Napier brings roughly 20 years of experience to the job, having started his career as an assistant to former Casper city manager Tom Forslund in 1998 before going on to administrator roles in Riverton and Gillette. A formal vote on the hire is expected at an upcoming Council meeting.
“What I hope to do is bring some normalcy and a sense of stability and calm and those sort of things to what certainly have been periods of upheaval for a few years now,” Napier said.
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Forslund described Napier as a talented administrator and said he was especially adept at building.
“Carter is an extremely strong people person,” Forslund said.
Napier was a finalist to replace John Patterson as city manager in 2015, but he withdrew late in the process, and City Council selected McDonald.
At a press conference on Wednesday morning in Gillette, Napier said he was concerned at that time about leaving Gillette as concerns over falling energy prices loomed.
Those fears were realized as hundreds of workers were laid off from local coal mines last spring and Napier oversaw major reductions in Gillette’s budget.
Budget changes likely
Napier hopes to balance Casper’s budget, suggesting that the fiscal hawks on City Council may find Napier a sympathetic partner.
“I’m certainly more comfortable and feel way better about being able to balance a budget without the use of reserves,” Napier said.
Council members agreed on Tuesday night to approve the budget proposed by Interim City Manager Liz Becher, which uses $5 million of Casper’s reserves, on the condition that they would work with the new city manager to identify spending cuts by October.
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Dallas Laird and several of the other members who were seated this year pushed for more immediate cuts, but city staff and Council veterans successfully argued for the budget to be approved largely as written to allow time to assess the impact of various spending reductions.
“Obviously we’re going to have to do something before fiscal year ‘19 unless the tax situation changes,” acknowledged Councilman Bob Hopkins, who supported approving the proposed budget.
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Napier suggested reserves were appropriate to use as a holdover but described a balanced budget, which Gillette appears to have achieved this year, as the end goal.
“Reserves can have a role with regards to helping smooth a transition that a community goes through in regards to recognizing their new normal,” he said. “We feel like we’ve realized our new normal ... and my feeling is perhaps the City of Casper is not quite to that point yet.”
Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King praised Napier’s leadership and guidance during falling revenue at the city. She was glad he decided to withdraw from consideration for the Casper job 18 months ago to help bring Gillette to that new normal.
“We hate to see him leave, but he has left us better than when he came,” Carter-King said. “What a great legacy to leave.”
‘Lucky to find him’
The City of Casper announced late Wednesday afternoon that Napier was being considered as the next city manager, subject to the formal Council vote. Mayor Kenyne Humphrey and Vice Mayor Ray Pacheco did not respond to requests for comment.
But Councilman Charlie Powell said an agreement was reached with Napier at a closed Council meeting on Tuesday night.
“Casper is lucky to find him, and the citizens will be happy with his work,” Powell said.
Powell was on Council when Napier interviewed for the city manager job two years ago and said he was highly thought of at the time.
“We’ve also had other members of the community mention his name and speak very highly of his accomplishments,” Powell said.
One Napier supporter is local businessman and State Rep. Pat Sweeney, R-Casper, who has followed the administrator’s career since the late 1990s.
“He knows our city, he knows our community,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney said that Napier had all-around management expertise that wasn’t limited to a specialty in finance or one in personnel, for example.
“His tool bag is full,” Sweeney said. “He will be able to calm things down, and we can move forward.”
Carter-King also said that Napier was a good fit for the Casper job.
“He’s got challenges in Casper, and Carter does love challenges,” she said.
Napier grew up in Virginia and Georgia before attending Brigham Young University in Utah. His first full-time job after graduate school was in the Forslund administration, where he worked for four years until 2003, when he took the Riverton job. He was hired by Gillette in 2011.
“When he worked for us he was young, enthusiastic and very talented and wanted to be a city manager one day,” Forslund said.
Napier said his first priority would be hiring a police chief and assessing Casper’s financial situation. He emphasized a desire to work closely with City Council and make sure he was incorporating their policy goals into the daily operations of the city.
In his current role, Napier answers to Gillette’s directly elected mayor. But unlike Gillette, Casper uses a “council-manager” form of government, with a directly elected City Council that sets broad policy direction to be carried out by a professional city manager.
That means Napier will have more power and final say on matters, like personnel, in Casper.
But Napier said during the press conference that Carter-King and the Gillette City Council had delegated significant responsibility to him as administrator and that he plans on working closely with elected officials regardless of Casper’s form of government.
“The differences that exist between the two cities ... will not be that different because I really believe in having a collaborative relationship with the council,” he said.
Napier eager, anxious
Becher had previously expressed wariness over media coverage of recent issues at City Hall, including the dismissal of police chief Jim Wetzel in early May.
Casper Police Chief Jim Wetzel is no longer serving as head of the department.
“The message that the Tribune is continually printing on the front page of the paper can be a real deterrent to hiring a city manager,” she said.
Though Napier did not address media’s role, he acknowledged that various issues within Casper’s government had given him “hesitation and concern” over whether to accept the job.
He said that after having reached a period of stability in Gillette, he was anxious to get settled in Casper and begin addressing issues in the Oil City.
“Frankly, it’s a little scary,” Napier said. “By the same token, I feel like I can help.”
His last day as Gillette administrator is June 22. Napier said he would start in Casper no sooner than early July.