Decatur chooses longtime assistant Andrea Arnold as new city manager

At the close of a long Monday meeting before a smattering of spectators, Andrea Arnold was announced as Decatur’s new city manager. Arnold has worked for the city exactly 21 years (hired in Nov. 1997) and has been assistant city manager since 2004. It has occasionally circulated that she was the potential successor to Peggy Merriss, although after the meeting she insisted, “I’ve never heard any of those rumors.”

She had plenty competition. After Merriss announced her retirement last July, 109 applied for the job, more than double what was originally anticipated. Applicants came from 21 states and the District of Columbia, with more than 40 from Georgia.

Mayor Patti Garrett wouldn’t divulge how many candidates city commissioners interviewed except to say it was “more than four, including those from in and out of state.” She added the decision was unanimous and that, “in the end there was only really one person for the job.”

Arnold doesn’t officially get named until commissioners approve the terms of her contract at the next meeting on Dec. 17. Assuming that, she begins work Jan. 1.

Merriss, whose last day is Dec. 31, has been Decatur’s manager for 25½ years, longest tenure since the city converted to the council-management form of government in 1924 (Decatur has had only two city managers since 1972). Until now she has been the city’s only woman manager.

Although Arnold has worked closely with Merriss on the city budget for years (she also oversees the municipal court and the fire department) she has never technically been second in charge.

In fact Decatur has three assistant city managers and a deputy city manager or as Merriss said Monday, “I have three Jalen Hurts (the Alabama quarterback who came off the bench to score the winning touchdown Saturday against Georgia). I can bring ‘em in when I need ‘em.”

Arnold has been preparing for this or a similar job much of her life. Her father David Taylor was city manager in Tarboro, N.C., Chapel Hill, N.C. and Temple, Texas and (like Merriss) was president of International City/County Management Association.

Arnold eventually earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science/urban studies from Furman University and a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Georgia. A Decatur resident for 23 years she and her husband David Arnold have children ages 15, 13 and nine.

Andrea Arnold, who’ll now run a city of 225 fulltime employees, said the big project for next year is working on the 2020 strategic plan, which the city’s undertaken every 10 years since 1999.

“Outside of that,” she said, “I’ll be doing a lot of listening. We have a city that’s doing well in all areas and is financially viable. I’m certainly not coming in with an agenda to make wholesale changes.”