CHAPEL HILL – As the date for Orange County Manager Frank Clifton’s resignation approaches, Barry Jacobs, Chair of the County Commissioners, says the Board hopes to have a permanent county manager in place by late winter.

Jacobs says the Board plans to hire an interim director within the next two weeks “if things go according to plan.” He wouldn’t specify if the Board is promoting someone within or bringing in an outside hire.

“That should at least get us through the period while we are searching with minimal disruption,” Jacobs says. “I feel confident that we can do this in an expeditious manner, but without having the pressure to change regimes too quickly.”

Clifton, who announced in June that he would step down on September 29, was hired as the Interim County Manager in 2009 and was found through the Association of County Commissioners. He then applied for the permanent position, but had to go through the process of reapplying and competing with other applicants found through a consulting firm, the Mercer Group.

The firm was used in the past two county manager searches in 2009 and in 2006, when Laura Blackmon was hired following John Link’s retirement after almost two decades of service, according Donna Baker, Clerk to Board of County Commissioners. Baker says the cost of using the Mercer Group in 2009 was between $20,000 and $25,000.

Jacobs says it is a hefty cost but can be worth it to find the best candidates.

“So with me personally spending it, I would say it is very expensive. If it is the County spending it, $20,000 out of an $180 million budget, it is surprisingly inexpensive,” Jacobs says.

The Mercer Group was also used for the county attorney search in 2009.

Jacobs says Nicole Clark, the County’s Human Resources Director, solicited a number of firms for bids and has narrowed it down to five firms.

“We have solicited proposals from consulting firms and hopefully before the end of September we’ll have someone [a consulting firm] in place to begin working with us to flush out the parameters of the search,” Jacobs says.

Jacobs says it is too early in the process to say which firms the County is considering at this point. He adds that once an interim director is in place, should they decide to apply for the permanent position, they will have to compete against other candidates found through the consulting firm.