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Stockbridge council OK’s big structural changes

 

By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent
 

  Two significant ordinance changes were approved June 3 at a special called meeting by the Stockbridge City Council, and the mayor expressed his displeasure with the changes as well as the process.

  One ordinance was amended with regard to which city positions are considered department heads. Water, sewer and sanitation positions no longer have that designation because they are under the public works director, which is now considered a department head along with the new administration/community service position and Main Street director, which was created last year under the previous administration.

  The Main Street director position was under the administration/community service position on the new organizational chart that was approved in March, according to Mayor Tim Thompson, who said the sudden changes last week were because the council did not like the personnel choices being made by city manager Michael Harris for some of these positions.

  Another ordinance change affects Harris’ status directly. Under the city’s charter, the city manager can be terminated by the mayor and has the right to appeal that termination to the council. Last week’s vote keeps that in place but now also allows the council to terminate the city manager.

  Both of the June 3 measures passed with a unanimous 5-0 vote and there was no public discussion.

  Thompson said this week that going into the meeting, neither he, Harris nor the city attorney “knew what we were walking into.”

  “What disturbs me most is that I campaigned on transparency and doing things out in the open,” he said. “This was not discussed in a public meeting.”

  When asked if the council, by changing certain positions to department heads, gave itself the authority to hire and fire those people directly, Thompson said, “Yes, that’s pretty accurate.”

  The mayor called the moves “political” and said the council was “cherry-picking” which portions of the charter it wanted to follow.

  Immediately after the new organizational chart was approved in March, job postings for new positions were publicized, but Thompson said this special called meeting was convened in haste after he and the council members received an e-mail naming certain people who were being offered jobs. He did not say who those people were.

  “That was an immediate red flag, indicating that they were probably unhappy with the decision the city manager made, after they gave the city manager the authority to make those decisions,” said Thompson. “The timing is very interesting, along with the fact that there was no public discussion.”

  The mayor added that with respect to Harris, the council essentially renegotiated his contract three months after bringing him on board.

  “We brought in someone after 17 years with the county, negotiated his contract, and now the council has the authority to terminate him, with all of this stemming from some hiring decisions he made,” he said.

  Thompson stressed that he has stayed out of the hiring process for rank-and-file city employees, concentrating only on those that require mayoral and council approval. He said the city manager was to make those other decisions based on who was best qualified to work for the city.

  “Going forward, at what point do we as a council not get involved in the day-to-day operations?” he asked. “The way our government is structured, we shouldn’t be involved like that and we definitely shouldn’t let politics get involved in it.”

  Thompson read a statement at the June 9 regular council meeting, saying he had objections to the new ordinances and even considered vetoing them but would not do so because he preferred to “offer a positive path forward for the city.” The council can override a mayoral veto with a 5-0 vote.

 

 

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