Hendersonville moves toward eliminating

The Hendersonville Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 12 to 1 on first reading to create the position of a Chief of Operations who would manage city staff and report to the mayor. The vote requires a second reading on Jan. 26. 

After a Nov. 3 election in which Mayor Jamie Clary won 63 percent of the vote, the city’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen took a first step on Tuesday toward eliminating the long-debated position of a city administrator.

The 13-member board voted 7 to 6 in May of 2019 to hire a city administrator to manage the day-to-day operations at City Hall. Former Parks Director Dave LeMarbre was appointed to the position - that answers to the full Board and not just the mayor - on an interim basis in December of 2019.

The move widened a riff between Clary and at least half of the city’s Board, and angered citizens who labeled it a political maneuver to seize power from the duly elected mayor.

Clary, along with five candidates for alderman, made reversing the city administrator position the central theme of their re-election campaigns. Clary won handily as did four of the five alderman candidates.

On Tuesday, Ward 6 Alderman Eddie Roberson introduced legislation to create a Chief of Operations position that would report directly to the mayor. Roberson first introduced the measure an hour earlier in a General Committee meeting. The full board voted to waive a rule that allows two weeks between when legislation is heard in committee and when it comes before the board.

Roberson, who had offered a similar idea in May of 2019, asserted the position represented a compromise between those who thought the city needed a professional manager at its helm and those who wanted to see the mayor retain control of the city’s day-to-day operations.

Roberson acknowledged that the city administrator position had created discord and was an unpopular one among residents.

“I don’t think there’s been a more contentious issue,” he said. “The level of opposition manifest itself in this election. I believe the people spoke on Nov. 3.”

In Roberson’s legislation, that was also sponsored by Clary, a Chief of Operations would:

- Be selected by the mayor and confirmed by the Board

- Report directly to the mayor

- Receive a salary of around $85K without the use of a city car

- Assist the mayor in proposing an annual budget to the board

- Achieve Certified Public Manager (CPM) status within two years

- Have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree with a graduate degree preferred

- Be an at-will employee with no long-term contract

- Possess five years’ experience in either the private sector or government leadership

-  Manage the day-to-day operations of city staff

Clary told board members he didn’t currently have anyone in mind for the position. He said he’ll work with Human Resources Director Chris Taylor to make the hire as soon as the position becomes city law. The Board previously voted to extend LeMarbre’s term through March. LeMarbre will remain until a COO is hired, according to an amendment made to Roberson’s ordinance.

After a lengthy discussion that included three other amendments, the full board voted 12 to 1 to create the position. The vote requires another reading on Jan. 26.

Ward 1 Alderman Peg Petrelli cast the dissenting vote, arguing that leaders seemed to be rushing through the measure.

“I greatly appreciate all the effort of Alderman Roberson… But I will say we are rushing this,” she said. “When we spent, for me four years, [considering] the city administrator position, as well as a citizen committee to look at this.”

 The nearly unanimous vote represented a marked reversal from the division seen on the Board just a month prior. 

Ward 3 Alderman Arlene Cunningham, who had supported the city administrator position, said she appreciates the compromise.  

“I saw how important it was last week when a mob invaded our Capitol,” she said referring to events in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. “This is craziness and we do not want this to ever happen in our city.”

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