At Saturday’s “Meet the Mayor” event at Local Coffee, Mayor Brian Williams brought along a special guest … none other than Chris Dorsey, the city’s newly-hired City Manager.
About a dozen interested citizens gathered to hear Mayor Williams hold forth on all the major projects the city is working on or has a stake in: The Red Wolves’ $125 million project off Spring Creek Road; The Red Wolves’ $1.5 million practice facility project inside Camp Jordan; the reconfiguration of the Interstate 75/24 interchange; the Camp Jordan renovations, and the hiring of a new police chief.
Dorsey, a Memphis native with 30 years experience in working for various government entities, mostly sat quietly and interjected a few comments into the discussion. When Williams was asked about hiring a permanent replacement for J.R. Reed – the police chief suspended in November 2018 and fired in March of this year – Dorsey jumped in. After all, it’s Dorsey’s decision on who gets the job, right?
Dorsey said he would soon start the process. He has conferred with consultants from UT’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS), including Rex Barton, the longtime MTAS law enforcement expert.
“I need to know how the department operates,” Dorsey told those gathered. “What sort of department do we want to run?”
He thoughtfully commented about the concept of “community oriented policing” versus a department that focuses on “crime suppression.” He wants to find out what’s going to work best for East Ridge.
Sounds like a good plan.
After the mayor’s update, Dorsey took center stage and introduced himself to the folks who take enough interest in city operations to show up on Saturday mornings to try and better understand what is going on.
Dorsey said that he and his family moved to Hamilton County in 2005. He’s got three kids that go to Chattanooga School for Arts and Sciences. He’s been commuting back and forth to Sparta to work as its City Manager. He got his undergraduate degree from UTK, and took a Masters of Public Administration. He was the budget manager in his hometown of Memphis for 18 years where he oversaw a $300 million budget.
“Budgets are budget,” he said. “They are numbers and they only differ by how many zeroes are at the end of a number.”
Dorsey said that he had been granted access to East Ridge’s proposed 2019-20 budget prior to taking his seat behind the City Manager’s desk last Monday. He frankly stated that he has yet to do a deep dive on all the departments “and how they tick.”
But he quickly came out with a statement that most residents of East Ridge embraces: “We’re not going to be raising taxes,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey said that it is most important to take care of the city’s employees. He reminded those gathered that between 60 and 70 percent of any city’s budget goes to pay salaries and benefits. To retain employees is important.
“The budget is a policy document,” Dorsey said. “It’s not simply a bunch of numbers.”
He said going forward, as part of a budget review, he would help the city set some concrete goals and determine just how long those goals may take to accomplish.
“It’s important for me to look forward to going to work in the morning,” Dorsey said. “I realize that not all of them will be ‘gold star days.'”
Dorsey said he’s the kind of manager that doesn’t sit behind a desk all day. He likes getting out and visiting various city departments and getting a look from ground level on how things are going.
Dorsey demonstrated that he has a sense of humor, something that East Ridge could use a little more of, in my opinion. He reminded Mayor Williams that he had been on the job for all of five days, and that he would be in his office on Monday.
“What’s the expression, ‘I feel like I’ve been drinking water out of a fire hose,'” he said regarding the learning curve of a new City Manger familiarizing himself with operations and staff of a new assignment.
Well, here’s hoping that the volume in that “fire hose” is quickly reduced for Dorsey and that he has a long and successful tenure as East Ridge City Manager.
I, for one, raise a glass and toast “cheers” to Chris Dorsey. Welcome to East Ridge.