After a six-month search that attracted candidates from around the country, Rock Hill leaders chose to look just down the hall for their next city manager.
Veteran finance director David Vehaun accepted the top job Wednesday at a gathering attended by City Council members, dozens of city employees and Vehaun's wife, Kim, and son, Jonathan.
In Vehaun, a Rock Hill native who has worked for the city since college, council members picked someone with deep local roots and a reputation as a financial innovator.
"He's homegrown," said Councilwoman Susie B. Hinton. "That's going to resound around this community."
Vehaun, whose tenure begins Oct. 18, pledged a commitment to open government. While he touted a publicly available strategic plan and an online program that tracks progress, Vehaun said there is room for improvement.
"We've done a tremendous amount in that area," he said. "If you want to know how money is being spent, it's all there. We need to always be looking for ways to make government more accountable and transparent."
The son of a Baptist minister, Vehaun grew up in working-class Rock Hill Homes, graduated from Winthrop University and left town for only two years to earn a master's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"I grew up here," Vehaun told the assembled crowd. "I rode my bike on the same streets that many of you did."
Vehaun emerged from three finalists who included city utilities chief Jimmy Bagley and Ray Gosack, deputy city administrator in Fort Smith, Ark.
The choice came down to Vehaun and Bagley, council members said. Bagley watched the announcement from a back row and was embraced afterward by several colleagues.
"Our hope and expectation is he's going to be a vital part of this team," Councilman Jim Reno said. "I hope he'll be here for a long time."
Vehaun said he wants Bagley to have a major role in his administration, though it was too early for specifics.
"Jimmy and I have really grown up in the organization together," he said. "As long as I am with the city, there will always be an important place in the organization for Jimmy."
The City Council will vote on a contract, including a salary, for Vehaun when it meets Oct. 11, Mayor Doug Echols said.
Councilman Kevin Sutton said Vehaun is part of the strongest crop of city department heads he has seen in his 16-year tenure.
"I felt like it was a no-brainer to hire from within," he said.
Echols talked about how Vehaun worked for three city managers - Joe Lanford, Russell Allen and Carey Smith - and developed his own mix of skills.
"His interview was extremely impressive," Echols said. "We were able to read the resumes and all that. When you hear someone articulate the vision they have, those things set him apart."
With help from Vehaun, the city devised a complex plan to pay for Manchester Meadows, a $12 million soccer complex that has become a popular draw for regional competitions.
More recently, Vehaun oversaw financing for public upgrades at Riverwalk, a planned community at the former Celanese site. Over the next 10 years, the project could pump $600 million into the local economy.
"The things that we're doing aren't being done in many communities," Vehaun said recently. "They're hard to pull off."
There have been moments of controversy. Vehaun was criticized in July 2006 when his office cut off power to late-paying customers on a day when temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.
A short time later, the city manager changed the rules to take weather conditions into account.
"When I look back on it, I think it would have been good if we'd had a policy that would guide us," Vehaun said. "The good news is, we do have something in place now."
Councilwoman Hinton said she watched Vehaun interact with residents during a meeting in Sunset Park about the closing of a city landfill. Hinton represents a collection of mostly African-American neighborhoods in central Rock Hill.
Vehaun came off as relaxed and approachable, Hinton said, showing qualities important for a city manager. That's what Rock Hill will get when Vehaun takes office, she said.
"It wasn't just artificial listening," she said. "He was really listening and giving people an opportunity to get their feelings heard."
Meet the new manager
Job: Rock Hill assistant city manager and finance director
Family: Wife, Kim; son, Jonathan
Education: Degree in government and public service from Winthrop University. Master's in public administration from UNC Chapel Hill
Church: Attends Forest Hill Church, Charlotte
Career mentor: Vehaun is considered a protege of longtime assistant city manager Gerry Schapiro.