Hendersonville to hire a city admin

City leaders moved on to other business after midnight early Wednesday after voting to hire a city administrator. Most of the standing-room-only crowd had left by that time. 

Hendersonville’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted 7 to 6 on Tuesday to create the position of a city administrator who, when hired, will handle many of the day-to-day operations currently handled by the city’s mayor.

Three years in the making, the vote creates a new position that will be under the direction and control of the city’s 13-member Board. The new position won’t be funded until July 1, 2020, at which time the city will begin the process of searching for a suitable candidate for the position.

The city’s charter allows for the hiring of a city administrator to handle many of the day-to-day operations currently held by the mayor.

According to the ordinance passed by city leaders on Tuesday, the city administrator will:

-          Administer the business of the municipality

-          Employ, promote, discipline, suspend and discharge all employees other than department heads

-          Recommend to the Board the appointment of department heads as well as oversee and discipline department heads

-          Act as a purchasing agent for the city

-          Prepare and submit the annual city budget

Tuesday’s final vote was preceded by a public hearing in which citizens argued both for and against the change.

Many argued the new position would take a lot of the politics out of the city’s daily operations and allow the city to run more smoothly. Others feared it would create another level of bureaucracy and put the city’s operations into the hands of one, unelected official. 

Unlike the April 23 BOMA meeting in which citizens spoke out against the proposal by a margin of 2 to 1, there were just as many who spoke for the change as against it at the May 28 meeting. Roughly 13 people spoke in favor of the move while around 14 citizens spoke in opposition to the ordinance.

Two city employees, Information Technology Manager Mary Beth Ippich and Fire Marshall Paul Varble, said they were in favor of the change.

“Our HR manager and I are the last two managers that reported to the previous mayor at City Hall,” said Ippich. “Every single director has left City Hall since Mayor Clary took office.”

Ippich said she was positive that speaking up would “put a target on my back.”

“It’s the guidance, the leadership that is missing… Here this doesn’t exist,” she said.

Varble said that a number of city employees thanked him for speaking in favor of a city administrator at the April 23 meeting, and that many asked him to speak again.

Following the public hearing and citizens comments, Ward 6 Alderman Eddie Roberson again introduced the idea of a Chief of Staff who would report directly to the mayor instead of the city administrator position.

Roberson argued that a Chief of Staff would free up the mayor to perform other duties; provide better cooperation in the executive branch; and be more economical than a city administrator.

“It is only logical to me with a popularly elected mayor,” said Roberson.

Municipal management consultant Gary Jaeckel told board members that there are no cities like Hendersonville that has a Chief of Staff position. The only communities that have one are Jackson, Metro Nashville and Clarksville, he said.

Roberson’s amendment failed 6 to 7.

Ward 5 Alderman Darrell Woodcock proposed an amendment that would give the city administrator the ability to hire and fire department heads after a one-year probationary period. That amendment failed 6 to 7 as well.

Alderman Arlene Cunningham, who represents Ward 3, said her biggest issue was the timing of the change. Cunningham moved that the city administrator position be funded in the 2021 fiscal year budget, beginning July 1, 2020 - and that a search for the position start at that time. That amendment passed 11 to 2.

An amendment that requires the city administrator candidate to be a member in good standing with the International City/County Managers Association also passed.

Before the final vote, Clary said that there were employees who offered to speak against the city administrator position, but he encouraged them not to.

“There have been employees who feel like they have a target on their backs… who feel pressure to be in favor of the city administrator,” he said. Clary also addressed comments made about turnover at City Hall, noting that three department heads have decided to retire since he took office in 2016.

“I don’t think it’s my fault… that three people chose to retire,” he said.

The move to a city administrator takes away much of the mayor’s authority, Clary argued.

“It takes away about 95 percent of the authority of the mayor,” he said. “It takes a weak mayor charter and makes it even weaker.”

The idea of a city administrator was first proposed by Mayor Scott Foster in 2016 as Foster neared the end of his third term as mayor. Foster first proposed the position as part of his 2017 fiscal year budget, arguing the mayor’s position had become too complex to not have a professional manager at the helm. Foster withdrew his proposal after receiving negative feedback from voters.

Alderman Matt Stamper proposed the idea in June of 2018. Stamper, too withdrew his proposal but moved that the city form an ad hoc committee to explore the idea.

After meeting for three months in the fall of 2018, a five-member ad hoc committee submitted an 80-page report in February in which it unanimously recommended that the city create the new position. It also recommended that the candidate come from outside of Hendersonville and either possess a master’s degree in public administration or be enrolled in a similar program.

Those who voted for a city administrator on final reading Tuesday included Peg Petrelli of Ward 1, Scott Sprouse and Pat Campbell of Ward 2, Arlene Cunningham of Ward 3, Ward 4 Aldermen Steve Brown and Andy Bolt and Jonathan Hayes of Ward 5.

Against the ordinance were Ward 3 Alderman Russ Edwards, Ward 6 Aldermen Jim Waters and Eddie Roberson, Mark Skidmore of Ward 1, Darrell Woodcock of Ward 5 and Mayor Jamie Clary.

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