Hewitt will have a new city manager, pending contract negotiations, after the city council voted 5-1 Tuesday to hire Bo Thomas, who has worked as Bellmead’s city manager for the past six years.

After almost two hours in closed-door session with Thomas in attendance for most of it, the council returned to open session and briefly debated whether to continue their search for a city manager or hold a vote on Thomas’ hire.

Mayor Pro Tem Steve Fortenberry, who cast the sole dissenting vote Tuesday, said Thomas is a capable candidate but that he would like a field of candidates to consider and interview, which would also allow more time for input from residents.

Other council members said it would be best to make the hire quickly to allow the city could get on with its business and to ease city employees’ concerns with their jobs, caused by recent upheaval among officials, including the previous city manager.

City attorney Mike Dixon told the council forming a search committee could cost up to $30,000 and said a local hire would come in already knowing Hewitt’s relationship to Waco and other local entities.

“I’m torn between voting to make a search committee and take three months or go ahead and hire somebody quick,” Councilman Bill Fuller said before the vote. “The person we interviewed tonight is very qualified and I think would do a great job.”

Thomas has served as city manager in Bellmead, just on the other side of Waco, since July 2012. His annual salary is $155,000.

Dixon said he expects contract negotiations to take up to two weeks, during which time a salary for Thomas will be determined.

Thomas said after the vote that he appreciates the confidence the council expressed in his years of experience and that he is thankful for the opportunity to share his vision for the city.

“I think Hewitt has a great future ahead of it,” Thomas said.

If hired, Thomas would move from a city of 10,500 residents with 77 employees and a $5.61 million annual budget to a city of about 14,400 residents with 109 employees and a $17.2 million annual budget.

The interview came almost a month after the Hewitt City Council voted 4-2 to approve a separation agreement with Adam Miles, the longtime city manager who had filed formal complaints against Mayor Ed Passalugo and a councilman. The council agreed to an $88,000 settlement with Miles Nov. 5.

Police Chief Jim Devlin has been serving as city manager since Miles’ departure.

Miles was making $164,582.58 at the time of his departure, City Secretary Lydia Lopez said.

The city of Hewitt uses a council-manager form of government, the most common among Texas cities. The city council establishes policies, creates ordinances, approves the budget and sets the tax rate, while the city manager handles day-to-day administrative duties. The city manager is required to prepare the annual budget, enforce city ordinances, supervise employees and programs, and provide recommendations to the council to enhance its ability to make decisions.

Before his hire in Bellmead, Thomas worked as the city manager in the northern Arizona town of Page for almost a decade. Before that, he worked 13 years for the city of Hobbs, New Mexico, including eight as city manager.

Thomas has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from New Mexico State University.

After announcing Thomas’ hire, the city council returned back behind closed doors to allow the council to seek and receive advice from their attorneys regarding “actual or threatened litigation; settlement of claims; legal powers and restrictions, and possible legal exposure; and matters required to be kept confidential by the professional rules which govern the attorney: Texas Workforce Commission charges.”

The city council will resume its meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday in City Hall.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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