“The city manager is not our boss we’re his boss.” – Councilman Denny Manning
As the days approached prior to the most recent city council meeting a curious and surprising item appeared on this week’s agenda:
I. Discussion of Current Interim City Manager – Councilmember Manning
My first thought was that maybe Mr. Manning had decided that asking Fire Chief Mike Williams to take on the additional role of Interim City Manager was worth more than the $1000 a month, $250 per week he is receiving in supplemental pay. That would seem likely to me, as former City Manager Andrew Hyatt was paid in excess of $100,000 per year and Hyatt wasn’t expected to fight any “real” fires.
By the time a City Manager is vetted and hired Chief Williams will have served at least a year in his current dual role, saving the city at least $90,000 plus perks and benefits. So to me a raise or bonus of some fashion to thank him for not dying while simultaneously doing the two most important jobs in the city might not be out of line.
It was during the “communication from council” portion of the meeting that this “discussion” started to take shape. Councilman Jacky Cagle asked Williams for answers to previously asked questions for which he did not receive a response.
Councilman Manning asked for clarification from the City Attorney if “the City Manager is the council’s boss or if we are his boss?” The City Attorney explained that it was the Council who hires and fires the City Manager who serves at the will of the council. Councilman Manning was upset because he spoke to an employee within City Hall and asked for something to be added to the agenda and was told that those requests need to go through the City Manager.
Councilman Manning also stated that he had tried to call Chief Williams but “He doesn’t return calls”.
At which point it became clear to most people in attendance as well as Mayor Brent Lambert exactly what item “I” was all about.
At this point Councilman Manning asked to bring item “I” forward to this point in the agenda. Councilman Manning then immediately made a motion to table it.
It is evident that the vote needed to secure the ouster of Interim City Manager Chief Williams resides with Councilman Larry Sewell, who was absent from the meeting due to being on vacation for spring break.
So now we have in a single meeting a clear and concise picture that shows exactly how broken our city governance is. We are a city on the mend, with a strong upward trajectory. However our star-bound reach doesn’t come without ankle weights that find ways to create enough drag to make the moon landings look more like a 3rd grade rocket launch.
This council was made aware by multiple citizens that asking Chief Williams, who was possibly the busiest employee in the city, to do even more work wasn’t the fairest of prospects. Yet, despite knowing this the council felt that he was the best person for the job.
“We’re going to make him do it until his hair turns gray,” commented one councilman when Chief Williams was appointed Interim City Manager. “He can do this thing until he starts crying uncle,” was another comment made at the time.
Up until this day it appears as if he has done a fine job running the city in addition to his regular daily duties. Of course, a few things the council has asked for haven’t been received. I’m not sure if it’s because Chief Williams failed at all to attempt to gather the requested items or if the failure resides with a person he sourced that out to. Ultimately he is responsible to the council for everyone in administration. On the other side of the coin what did the council expect? He’s the Fire Chief. He has an entire real job besides being chief administrator and council document fetcher. How could anyone not see that when you ask one of the busiest employees in the city to be even busier, a handful of things will fall through the cracks?
That’s why I advocated a few opinion pieces ago to get someone to act as an assistant to the council. To help them have at hand the things they need to make quick and effective decisions.
A prime example being the most recent meeting when a request for a variance was made so Walgreens by Germantown Road can sell beer. Anyone who has been to council meetings in the last two years knows the first thing that happens when someone comes for a variance is that the Mayor asks for the “offended” party to be contacted and notified prior to the council voting. Yet, to this day no one ever does that as a logical first step prior to making the person applying for the variance wait through an entire meeting just to find out nothing will be done until the next meeting.
At this point, I guess in time we will see exactly what reason is given when what I suspect will be a 3-2 vote to remove Chief Williams as the Interim City Manager occurs. If a highly respected and beloved member of our own community and longtime employee is unable to withstand the strain of our own internal drama how does any “outsider,” professional city manager even stand a chance.
I just hope between now and then the councilmen involved will be able to come up with clear, concise reasons why the Interim City Manager needs to be replaced other than just showing him “who’s boss.”