Leaders to once again debate hiring a city administrator

In a surprise move weeks before a vote on the next fiscal year budget, one alderman is proposing the city hire a city administrator to manage many of the duties currently handled by Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary.

Ward 6 Alderman Matt Stamper made the proposal during a recent Finance Committee meeting. The item was not on the agenda and was added by Stamper at the meeting.

The city’s charter allows for a city administrator if seven members of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen vote to hire one.

Stamper is proposing the city include $125,000 to $150,000 in its 2019 fiscal year budget for the position.

“The goal is to take the mundane, day-to-day administration off of the mayor’s plate to free him up to represent the city,” said Stamper. “Instead of dealing with HR issues all day, it lets the mayor set policy for the city and fully represent the city.”

It’s not the first time Hendersonville leaders have considered the move.

In April of 2016, Mayor Scott Foster proposed the city include a full-time administrator position in the 2017 fiscal year budget – just prior to the 2016 mayoral election in November. Foster did not seek re-election and Clary defeated three challengers for the top spot.

Several other cities including Goodlettsville, Brentwood, Murfreesboro and Franklin, have full-time city administrators and part-time mayors.

By law Hendersonville officials would not be able to reduce the amount paid to a sitting mayor, Stamper noted. Currently the mayor’s salary is around $95,000 with an additional $27,500 in benefits.

Stamper said he supported Foster’s proposal two years ago and still thinks it’s a good idea for the city.

City leaders voted to fund the position on first reading of the budget that year, but Foster pulled it on second reading after several aldermen said they heard negative feedback from their constituents.

‘The mayor needs help’

Stamper said the mayor would continue to have a vote on policy issues, would lead all meetings and still guide the direction of the city. A city administrator would be responsible for the day-to-day operations at City Hall and would be in charge of hiring and firing city department heads.

“With 400 employees and the size of our budget, the mayor needs help,” he said. “It’s basically another department head.”

The Finance Committee moved the proposal on to the full board with Stamper and Paul Frisbee of Ward 3 voting to recommend it.

Finance Committee Chairman Alderman Arlene Cunningham abstained from the vote.

Cunningham said she only found out about the proposal minutes before the meeting and she needed more time to research it.

“My concerns are adding $125,000 to an already strained budget,” she said. “I also would like to see what cities have full-time administrators and full-time mayors and what the relationship between the two positions are.”

Cunningham also said that city leaders shouldn’t make a decision based on who the current mayor is.

“Whatever personal feelings people have toward the current mayor shouldn’t weigh on the decision,” Cunningham added.

Clary, who beat his closest competitor by 11 percentage points in November 2016, opposed the idea in 2016 and opposes it now.

He disagreed with Stamper’s assertion that a city administrator would be similar to other department heads, adding an administrator would basically run the city – a task he’s now charged with.

“For 30 years the head of the city has been elected by voters and this would put the head of the city appointed by the 13-member board,” said Clary. “I disagree with taking the rights away from voters.”

Board members are expected to vote on the budget on June 12 and again on June 26.

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