On Thursday night, Wake County residents gathered in Room 2800 of the Wake County Justice Center to meet and learn about the three finalists for the all-important position of county manager: Barry Burton, the administrator for Lake County, Illinois; David Ellis, Wake’s former deputy county manager and now interim manager; and Bonnie Hammersley, the manager of Orange County.

The post of manager, which was vacated by the retiring Jim Hartmann in October, is essentially the county’s CEO, leading all of its departments and agencies and implementing the policies of the Board of Commissioners. He or she will also play a key role in developing the county’s budget this year, which will no doubt require a difficult balancing act between, with commissioners reluctant to raise property taxes yet again but the school system in need of more support, especially given the looming class-size mandate due to go into effect this year.

The informal meeting drew a varied group of press, religious leaders, community officials, and citizens attending out of curiosity. The introductions began with all three candidates discussing their education, relevant government experience, and goals for the position. Afterward, attendees met and chatted with the candidates.

Burton was first to take to the podium. He earned a bachelor’s degree in urban administration from the University of Cincinnati and a master’s degree in public administration from Northern Kentucky University. He’s been a county administrator in Illinois since 2002. He said he’s focused on collaboration and designing a budget that benefits everyone in Wake County. During the meet-and-greet, Burton reiterated his interest in affordable-housing solutions and continuous public feedback.

“If [people] don’t understand their role in the county, where they fit into the government, how can they be good public servants?” Burton said.

Ellis, Wake’s interim county manager, spoke next. His holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University, a master’s degree in public administration from George Mason University, and an executive certificate from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Ellis has served as deputy county manager since 2015 and took over the local government last fall. He stressed the need for affordable housing and improved behavioral health care, two key issues for the county commissioners who will be making the hiring decision.

“Making sure we have community-based services” was chief among Ellis’s concerns, especially with regard to the county’s vulnerable.

Hammersley, who has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Edgewood College and has served as the Orange County manager for four years, went last. Hammersley’s main concerns are collaboration with Wake County’s school system—with whom county leaders have had a rocky relationship of late—accommodating the county’s continuing growth, and sustainability. Hammersley considers the jump in population size from Orange County, with just over 140,000 residents, to Wake County, with over a million, a challenge she’s ready to take on.

“Leadership is about relationships; it transfers regardless of size,” Hammersley said.

After leaving the event, participants were given a card for a website where they were invited to share feedback about the candidates and offer input on the final evaluation and selection of the new county manager.

Several county commissioners have told the INDY in the last week that they’re unsure whom they’re going to pick—meaning, both which candidate they’re going to vote for and which one their colleagues will—and they think any of three would do a fine job.