The way East Ridge sometimes works reminds me of a lyric in the Crosby Stills & Nash song Southern Cross.
“And we never failed to fail it was the easiest thing to do”
The words illustrate the way we’ve gone about trying to hire and keep a City Manager.
When Andrew Hyatt decided to decamp for a job in Florida in July of last year our city fathers decided to do what they’ve done in the past … appoint an interim and leave a search for a permanent replacement on the back burner of things to do.
In August, Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt tried to convince his colleagues that the city needed to at least start the process of finding a permanent replacement. But, no, we didn’t need to get into a hurry. I remember Councilman Denny Manning saying something to the effect of leaving Interim City Manager Mike Williams in place for the foreseeable future because he was doing things that needed to be done in the city for a long time.
Eventually the city got around to advertising for the position and took resumes up through January 30. With resumes in City Hall, our elected officials let them age for a good while before finally allowing a third party from MTAS to rank the candidates. That document, like good wine, was aged for an appropriate amount of time before the Council decided it was time to pare that list down to a half dozen people they would interview. The interviews will be held on April 28 and 29.
Well, guess what? the top candidates are long gone. They’ve been hired by other cities because they’ve got something on the ball. The City of East Ridge will choose from a group of people who have been looking for a job for six months. Our choices very well could be the top of the bottom.
That’s frustrating enough. But you know what, it really doesn’t matter who the next City Manager is in East Ridge because they won’t be here long. Look no further than the tenure of City Managers since we hired our first “professional” CM, one William Whitson. Since 2009 we’ve burned through Whitson, Tim Gobble and Hyatt.
In my opinion, the turnover in city managers isn’t so much a result of having inept or incompetent people at the head of our day-to-day operations, it’s the result of some of our councilmen meddling in the city manager’s affairs.
The job of the Council is to set policy. The job of the City Manager is to implement those policies.
It’s no secret that some councilmen are in the city manager’s office or blowing up his phone telling him what to do and how to do it. That’s no way to run a city.
In fact, our City Charter prohibits this kind of nonsense. Yet, believe me, it happens. The City Manager is caught between a rock and a very hard place. If he blows the whistle, the councilman will be after his head. If he keeps his mouth shut, he becomes frustrated, bitter, ineffective, thwarted.
We need to at least give our next city manager, whoever that may be, a fighting chance. I’ve got a suggestion for moving forward and it could get unpleasant.
In the future, if the mayor gets wind of an elected official interfering in the business of the city manager he needs to act. He and the City Attorney, acting in conjunction, needs to lay down the law in a City Council meeting. Call ’em out! Tell the offending elected official that this must stop. Is it not a violation of the councilman’s oath of office to uphold the City Charter by meddling in the city manager’s business?
Nobody wants discord on the Council. I understand that. Yes, the mayor may be picking a fight with a colleague if he does this. But, folks, we’ve got to change this revolving door to the City Manager’s office. East Ridge has the potential for unprecedented economic development in the next few years. Having continuity in the City Manager’s office could go a long way in achieving economic prosperity and with helping move this city forward.