Hendersonville leaders will consider a resolution on Tuesday that will remove many of the city’s day-to-day operations from Mayor Jamie Clary and place them in the hands of an interim city administrator.
The city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 7 to 6 in May to create the position of a city administrator and to fill the position in the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020.
In October, board members were divided again when they voted 7 to 6 to move forward immediately with a search for the position.
In a special-called General Committee meeting on Monday, Aldermen Peg Petrelli and Arlene Cunningham explained why they want a city administrator to begin as soon as possible.
Petrelli referenced a discussion during a Nov. 12 General Committee meeting in which it was revealed that the city’s codes director appears to have received several perks since being hired in July of 2018, including the equivalent of 11 weeks paid vacation.
“That administrative anomaly itself is a great concern,” said Petrelli, “that’s just one example. Those actions not to mention several other oddities going on administratively within the city brought me to this resolution.”
First candidate withdraws
Petrelli first proposed an interim city administrator in the Nov. 12 General Committee meeting. In that meeting she presented a resolution to appoint James R. Johnson to the position effective Nov. 27. Petrelli said then that Johnson was recommended by MTAS advisor Gary Jaeckel, who also attended the meeting alongside Johnson. Johnson told the committee he had more than 40 years of experience as a city administrator, and that he was looking for a new career opportunity.
On Monday, Petrelli presented a similar resolution but without Johnson’s name. Petrelli said that Johnson withdrew his name from consideration and that she had received feedback from some members of the community that Johnson may not be the best fit for the city.
According to Resolution 2019-63, the interim city administrator will be appointed to the board and offered employment by the city’s human resources manager within five days of city leaders voting on the resolution. The person will start working for the city no later than 10 business days after adoption. Board members will vote on the resolution at the Nov. 26 Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting.
The position will be funded by money previously appropriated for unfilled positions in the city’s public works and finance departments. The resolution also states that the interim city administrator may not apply for the permanent city administrator position.
Cunningham, who is a co-sponsor of the resolution, said the move is necessary because Clary has instructed Human Resources Manager Peter Voss to not advertise the city administrator position.
“The end result was our mayor unfortunately was violating our law,” she said. “Not only did he violate our law, he violated his oath of office which put us in dire straits. That more or less was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me.”
When asked why he instructed Voss to not fill the position, Clary said that it was his understanding that the board had not passed the salary, job description and qualifications of the city administrator along with the ordinance in May.
Several aldermen as well as Jaeckel disputed his claim.
“It’s part of the ordinance, mayor,” said Cunningham. “Can’t you read?”
Cunningham said there were other reasons for Clary to be removed from administering the day-to-day operations of the city. She said that Clary violated a state statute by writing a $10,000 check to Hendersonville High School’s band and chorus programs; misappropriated funds; misled the board in relation to the city’s garbage contract; violated human resources rules and regulations; gave money to a private entity that had to be returned; and forced the former public works director to sign a document forbidding him to talk to aldermen.
“I consider this city in dire straits,” said Cunningham. “I don’t think we have a choice at this point.”
Ward 5 Alderman Darrell Woodcock asked General Committee Chairman Scott Sprouse if he has asked City Attorney John Bradley or another independent body to look into the concerns raised during the Nov. 12 General Committee meeting. Sprouse said that no decision had been made.
When asked by a reporter if Codes Director Brian Washko has received the equivalent of 11 weeks paid vacation, Clary said he wasn’t sure how much vacation time Washko has been given.
“The state comptroller and auditors looked into this several months ago. They had no findings and gave us a clean audit,” Clary said. “If it will produce some harmony among the board and improve city operations, I welcome another audit. I am fine with an audit that examines the pay of every person whose time I approve and evaluates the documentation for the time they are paid for.”
LeMarbre a leading candidate
Although Petrelli’s revised resolution doesn’t name a candidate for the interim city administrator position, she did say she will recommend former Parks Director Dave LeMarbre for the position.
LeMarbre retired as parks director in September 2015 after working for the city for 34 years. He served as the interim parks director in 2018 following the resignation of Brandon Rogers.
“My goal is to have someone with experience who knows our city to come in and help calm down the situation,” said Petrelli. “I think he would be a good person to come in and kind of correct the ship at this point.”
Ward 3 Alderman Russ Edwards said he would support a resolution directing Voss to advertise for a permanent city administrator rather than appoint an interim.
“This seems like a very drastic move to get an interim city administrator in,” said Edwards. “We’re creating this whole thing from scratch here.”
General Committee members voted to send Resolution 2019-63 to BOMA with a positive recommendation.