Three days a week on his lunch break, David Vehaun rushes from City Hall to a classroom at Winthrop University, where he takes his place in front of a group of students.
Vehaun has taught courses in government and public policy for 20 years, never missing a semester. Though he has to skip lunch, Vehaun relishes the part-time gig because it's a way to encourage young people to consider careers in public service - a decision he made as a Winthrop student.
"If I'm successful in becoming a city manager," Vehaun said, "it's probably something I'm going to have to give up. I'll miss that."
Students and former work colleagues describe Vehaun, the professor, in similar terms to Vehaun, the finance director and assistant city manager.
He's extremely smart and knowledgeable, they say, but prone to displays of arrogance that can rub people wrong.
"He refers to himself in the third person a lot," said student Chris Murphy. "He'll say things like, 'When Vehaun tells you to do something, Vehaun's usually right...' There's this little corner of us, we all just sit there and crack up."
According to Murphy, Vehaun told the class last Monday that he was a finalist for the city manager job, an interesting bit of timing given that City Council members didn't make a public announcement until later in the day.
"He goes, 'Now guys, I'm one of the finalists for this job,'" Murphy said.
Ambition started early
The excitement was not surprising because Vehaun has coveted the job for his entire career. Mentor Gerry Schapiro, the city's longtime assistant manager, has groomed Vehaun for the role since hiring him out of college in 1986.
"It's sort of a lifelong dream for me," Vehaun said.
Vehaun does not fit the typical profile of a high-level executive. He grew up the son of a Baptist pastor in a working-class neighborhood off Cherry Road called Rock Hill Homes, now known as Catawba Terrace.
Vehaun had a gift for numbers from a young age, and his talent carried him through Winthrop University with honors and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for a master's degree.
Through it all, Vehaun says he has remembered his roots in Rock Hill Homes, where many neighbors worked in the textile mills and Star Paper Tube at the end of the block.
"Knowing this community like I do, I think I probably have a unique perspective that no one else really has," he said.
Vehaun has earned a reputation as a financial wizard able to devise innovative, complex fiscal policies. The city's bond rating was increased in 2008, a landmark accomplishment that has led to better interest rates and a stable economic base for potential employers.
A review of similar-sized cities across the country found that Moody's ranks only 29 higher cities than Rock Hill, though hundreds are in the same category, city officials said.
"What David has realized is that we have to find ways to make Rock Hill affordable for families," said former City Councilman John Gettys. "Growing up in this community, in the family he did, he recognizes there are a lot of people who could get left behind if we're not smart about handling our financial picture.
"We're a lot better off financially than we ever were."
Air of superiority?
With his long record of accomplishments, Vehaun has developed a high opinion of himself, according to some former colleagues.
As city manager, he would do fine as an administrator, but struggle with the public side, predicted Karen Harper, who worked for Vehaun as a senior finance analyst from 1996 to 2001.
"The personality is not going to be there," said Harper, now with Bank of America in Charlotte. "Some people are meant to be behind the scenes. That's how I would characterize David Vehaun.
"He is the sharpest guy you're going to meet. When it comes to the human factor, I don't think that's there."
Vehaun said he works to make sure employees' opinions are heard and respected. He said his dry sense of humor can sometimes come across differently than he intends.
About a year ago, Vehaun began visiting city departments to meet employees and build relationships. He took some to lunch and held informal talks with others, part of what he describes as an effort to hear concerns and ideas from front line workers.
Vehaun wants to be known around the office as "David," which would be a departure from current City Manager Carey Smith, who requests subordinates call him "Mr. Smith."
Vehaun said he'd like to be known as an approachable boss, someone you can stop in the hallway for a quick chat.
"I'm very comfortable in who I am," he said. "You'll figure me out after the first 10 or 15 seconds you meet me."
Job: Rock Hill assistant city manager
Family: Wife, Kim; son, Jonathan
Education: Degree in government and public service from Winthrop University. Master's in public administration from UNC Chapel Hill
Career mentor: Gerry Schapiro, Rock Hill assistant city manager.
"Gerry hired me as an intern in 1986 - taking a chance on a kid with a four-year degree. He has always been willing to give me the chance to try new things."
WANT TO WEIGH IN?
Here is how to reach City Council members who will choose Rock Hill's next city manager:
Mayor Doug Echols, 329-7011
Kevin Sutton, 328-1428
Susie B. Hinton, 327-1645
Jim Reno, 366-4318
John Black, 980-4148
Kathy Pender, 980-5512
Osbey Roddey, 328-6756