After Thursday’s City Council meeting, I got a phone call from a concerned citizen over what he witnessed at the meeting.
During the “Communication from Council” portion of the meeting, Councilman Denny Manning asked Mayor Brent Lambert if the applications for the job of City Manager were going to City Attorney Hal North’s office. Manning said that in a previous meeting he had made it clear that he wanted the applications to go directly to North’s office and not City Hall.
Lambert told Manning that it was his understanding that the applications were being sent to the human resources department in City Hall where they were being kept. At some point they would be forwarded to North, who as the city’s counsel, would then review them to make sure that those who had applied met the qualifications under the City Charter.
Manning took umbrage over the fact that the applications were not being sent directly to North and that they were in fact inside City Hall. Manning said he had reviewed video and audio tapes of the meeting where he believed he had expressly stated that the paperwork would go to North. During Thursday’s meeting Manning told the mayor that he had spent more than two hours trying to find his statements on the recordings … and they weren’t there.
Mayor Lambert asked Manning if he was saying the recordings had been tampered with, an act that Lambert said was a criminal offense. Manning said that he was not “calling anybody a crook,” but his statements _ which he was absolutely positive he made _ were not anywhere on the recordings.
Vice Mayor Marc Gravitt chimed in and said the official minutes of the Dec. 10 City Council Meeting reflect that Councilman Larry Sewell asked if the applications should be sent to North or to City Hall. The minutes state that North said the applications should be physically sent to City Hall. The motion was passed unanimously. Gravitt told Manning that those minutes were approved by the City Council a matter of minutes before Manning raised the issue.
The citizen I spoke with Friday said he couldn’t believe that more people don’t come to the City Council meetings for the pure entertainment value it offers. He said it was better than going to the movies.
Then the caller turned more serious and said that Manning was asking the wrong question. In his opinion Manning should not have been outraged over the fact that the applications for the position of City Manager were going to City Hall, but that the process to hire a new, permanent City Manager was going nowhere.
I share his frustration.
Former City Manager Andrew Hyatt resigned at the end of June. The City will continue to accept applications to fill his position until the end of January, seven long months later! That’s simply to get a pool of applicants to interview for a replacement.
The Council installed Fire Chief Mike Williams as the Interim City Manager. It’s just unfair to Chief Williams to saddle him with this placeholder position as interim in addition to his duties of running the fire department. In a July 24 City Council meeting, Gravitt discussed the idea of moving forward with a search for a City Manager. Gravitt said that Chief Williams “would jump over a building if we asked him to.”
During the July 24 meeting Gravitt emphasized the importance of the city’s economic development and that we desperately need a “point person” to handle it. He asked that the council simply begin discussing the prospect of moving forward with hiring a permanent replacement for Hyatt.
Manning wouldn’t have it. “My thought is that we need to leave it like it is for a couple months,” he said during the meeting. “Later down the road we can come back on it. As a matter of fact, I put that in a form of a motion.”
At that meeting Lambert said he was concerned that if the city kept Chief Williams in the position of City Manager that he may “burn out.”
That didn’t seem to concern Manning who said, “When his (Williams) hair starts turning gray we will worry about that.”
Let’s get real, shall we? Entertainment value … Yes, oh yes. That’s the kind of exchange you don’t hear often in any serious city government business. At one meeting during this time, one councilman said the city should ride Williams until he “cries uncle.” Oh, yeah, that’s entertaining. But, is that how we want to treat longtime, dedicated employees who really and truly have the best interests of the city at heart?
I say no.
I agree with the citizen who called me to express his concern about Manning’s inquiry about where applications for City Manager are being sent. It’s the wrong question. Many times only the wrong question is being asked during City Council meetings.
The real question is, When are we going to hire a permanent City Manager? And further, when we hire the next City Manager will the City Council allow him to do his job without interference?