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Chamber still seeking Main Street head
Hire could be made this week
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The Covington-Newton County Chamber of Commerce is on its second search this year to try and find the next director for Main Street Covington – after its first two finalists backed out for personal reasons in late February/early March – and chamber president Hunter Hall is confident one of the remaining two finalists will work out.

Hall told the Covington City Council Monday he expects a hire by the end of the week after the chamber’s selection committee recently conducted in-person interviews of the two finalists, both of whom have run Main Street programs in other states. (See left for a breakdown of the candidates.)

The posted salary for the position was $45,000-$55,000, based on experience.

The chamber’s original search in January and February yielded 20 applicants, which was whittled down to two finalists, one from North Carolina and one from Texas. Hall told the council Monday one of the finalists declined the job because of health issues and the other one declined because he or she had a personal issue come up and no longer wanted to relocate.

Immediately after the second candidate declined the job in the second week of March, the job was reposted, Hall said. The chamber received 15 applicants the second time around, again narrowing back to two finalists – the selection committee conducted in-person interviews Monday – and Hall said Tuesday an offer will be made this week.
The Main Street Covington program, which is responsible for promoting, preserving and developing downtown Covington, has been without a permanent director since longtime director Josephine Kelly resigned in early June 2013. A variety of interim directors filled the spot, including Main Street board member Serra Phillips, who served from July 2013 to February 2014. Phillips was not chosen as a finalist for the permanent Main Street job but was instead named the chamber’s retail recruiter.

Main Street consultant Sharlene Cannon had been running the program, but left because she had a consulting agreement with another community, and Porterdale Main Street Director Teri Haler has been handling interim director duties for Covington for the past month. Hall said Haler is mainly managing the event permitting process for the square, while the board of directors continues to handle the financial and programming side.

The Main Street Covington program used to be jointly funded by the city and county, but the city took over full control and then contract with the chamber to put Main Street under the same roof as tourism, small business and economic development.

Main Street Covington has a nearly $200,000 budget funded through two sources. The program receives hotel/motel tax money — a special tax on hotels and motels cities can charge that must be used to promote tourism-related activities — which was projected to be around $110,000 this fiscal year and pays for the actual work of the program and city funding. The program was also budgeted to receive $86,426 in city tax dollars for the fiscal year, which pays for the director’s salary and benefits as well as office rent and supplies. The chamber receives both sources of funding under its contract.

Meet the finalists

Candidate #1 - Vicki Davis

Current job – Executive Director of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, Hinesville, Ga., Oct. 2007-Present

Job highlights:
- got a $500,000 state grant for the construction of a community amphitheatre
- initiated numerous community events – (downtown farmer’s market, lunchtime concerts, OktoberFest, Scarecrow Stroll & Beggars Night)
- Hinesville was selected as a Main Street start-up program in 2014
- Established redevelopment district
- Worked on preservation of historic jail, including securing funding

Main Street experience:
Program manager for the Main Street program in Osceola, Iowa from Nov. 2001-Nov. 2003
Worked with Main Street program in West Des Moines, Iowa as executive director of Historic Valley Junction Foundation – Nov. 2003-Aug. 2005

Osceola Highlights:
- Achieved first national certification in 2002
- Increased funding by 21% by 2003
- Initiated anti-litter campaign and got money for trash receptacles

West Des Moines highlights:
- Achieved first national certification in 2004-2005
- Started Festivale Cinco de Mayo in celebration of cultural heritage of community settlers
- Oversaw Urban Main Street Community, which had 150-plus specialty shops and more than 50 annual special events

Other job history:
Program director for East Davenport Development Corporation, Davenport, Iowa – Feb. 2006-July 2007
Job detail: administered HUD funding for neighborhood historic preservation and in-fill projects

Quote from cover letter:
“My current position includes the responsibility to hold numerous annual cultural events, including two festivals, several concerts, open park days, weekly farmers’ market, and retail promotions. I also manage city owned facilities, including contract management, maintenance, scheduling, and planning and logistics for all activities and events.
“Embracing new communities as my own is an easy and quick transition when a community shares my passion for heritage preservation, cultural tourism, and is progressive thinking in terms of economic development. “

Candidate #2 - Velinda Wheeles

Current job: Catering/marketing sales manager for Zoe’s Kitchen, Auburn, Ala., Feb.2013-present
- Increased catering and in-store revenue
- Looks for new marketing opportunities and works with business customers

Above and Beyond Catering – serve with local catering company on some weekends

Main Street experience:
Executive director of Opelika Main Street, Opelika, Ala., Oct. 2003-Feb. 2011
- Expanded community events, On the Tracks Food and Wine, Christmas In a Railroad Town and Block Parties
- Developed farmers market for five seasons
- Developed breast cancer walk for Opelika and surrounding counties

Other job history:
Substitute teacher at Opelika City Schools, Opelika, Ala., Jan. 2012-Feb. 2013

Quote from cover letter:
“I have been visiting Covington and your downtown area for three years. I am relocating very soon to your community and would be beyond excited to do what I have a huge passion for. I love and strongly believe in the Main Street program and the Four Point approach of economic development, design, organization and promotion. I am very proud of what I, along with a long list of dedicated volunteers were able to accomplish in Opelika.”