A meeting Tuesday night to discuss eliminating the city administrator position and creating a full-time mayor ended with no decision, but a full-time mayor may be off the table for four years.
City attorney Tim Pirtle informed the board that it does not have the authority to make the change to a full-time mayor at this time without permission from incoming mayor Jimmy Haley.
“This board would be totally lacking in authority to change the mayor’s position from part-time to full-time,” said Pirtle. “There was a race with a part-time mayoral position and that was the position Mr. Haley was elected to fill. Without his consent, there could be no change in the job description.”
Haley refused the change and expressed his belief the incoming board should be given this decision.
“I ran for this office as a part-time mayor and that was what I was elected to do,” said Haley. “If certain members of the new board have voiced an opinion that they want a full-time mayor, I think that needs to be left up to the new board. I would hate to encumber a new board with a direction that they may not wish to take.”
If the incoming board wants to require the change for election year 2016, it would have to make an amendment to the city’s current ordinance that established the mayor’s position as part-time. The measure would require two majority reads before the board.
The meeting was called by Alderman Billy Wood to discuss the change to a full-time mayor and eliminating the position of city administrator, as well as city administrator David Rutherford’s future with the city.
With what appeared to be the end of the mayoral issue, Wood added, “That just leaves us with the man. First, I want to apologize to David. I’m sorry we have to talk about this with you sitting there, but it is what it is.”
Wood says a lot of promises were made by individuals during the 2012 campaign to fire Rutherford.
“To my knowledge everyone who is going to be sworn in has said publicly, repeatedly, that David is kicked to the curb after this election,” said Wood.
By Rutherford’s current contract, he will get 20 months of severance pay if he is fired by the new board before his contract renewal in October 2013.
“If the board fires Rutherford now, it costs the city 14 months in severance,” said Wood. “What are the wishes of the new board?”
When no response came from Haley and Alderman Rick Barnes, who are the only current board members who will be returning with Wood, Vice Mayor Everett Brock stated, “Is it the will of the new board to just let this thing lie? Nobody seems to want to make that opinion now that the election is over. Sure is a different world after the election.”
“Some of the loudest people didn’t get elected, though,” said Haley.
Barnes added, “I think they need to be sworn in first before they are asked to make a decision.”
According to Alderman Clair Cochran, the difference between 14 months severance pay and 20 months is in excess of $100,000.
“I guess I want to ask the present board members that are going to be with the new board so you can openly convey to the city taxpayers, are you willing to eat the difference in a 20 months severance that we can act on right now for 14 months? It’s more than $100,000,” she said.
Cochran says the city was looking at bankruptcy four years ago and thanks to guidance from Rutherford the city currently has a $4.7 million surplus, so she doesn’t share in what appears to be the new board’s stance against Rutherford.
“He has done an excellent job. We sit here with a $4 million surplus,” she said. “When I came into office four years ago we were in a deficit. We forget that. I want to say, publicly, thank you to Mr. Rutherford.”
To Haley and Barnes, Cochran stated, “None the less, we need to be prudent. You are either passing up on an opportunity by either being indecisive or choosing not to speak up in a committee meeting. You can speak up right now, 14 months or 20 months severance? If you pass up this opportunity tonight, you are costing the city taxpayers the difference.”
Haley replied, “I don’t know what the difference in severance is.”
“It’s in excess of $100,000,” said Cochran.
Brock says the situation comes down to campaign promises verses reality.
“Let’s move on, because this isn’t going anywhere,” said Brock. “You have to remember there are campaign promises and then there’s reality. I think what we have is we’ve bumped up against reality here.”
Haley said, “I still think a new board needs to look at this and address it. They are the ones who were elected, like you said, with those promises. So, let them look at it and make that decision.”
“But again, it’s campaign promises verses reality,” said Brock.
Haley stated, “Then let the new board face reality.”
The session ended with a warning from Pirtle about a breach of contract.
“Eliminating the city administrator position would only require a majority vote of the board,” he said. “To terminate Mr. Rutherford would require five votes. Eliminating the position of city administrator while Mr. Rutherford holds the contract would be a breach of contract.”
Future board members were asked to speak on the situation during the board meeting following the committee meeting but did not.