Mayor Jimmy Haley’s stint as interim city administrator could come to an abrupt halt. A move to do away with the city administrator position followed accusations by one alderman that Haley has overstepped his authority and has too much power.
Alderman Mike Neal asked Finance Committee members to abolish the position of city administrator. That person oversees department directors, oversees day-to-day operations of the city, serves at the direction of the board, and enforces city policy and the directives of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen.
“I would like to make a motion before the Finance Committee to repeal ordinance 1518, Title 1, Chapter 7 of the municipal code which would eliminate the position of the city administrator,” said Neal. “This position, from its inception, has been a lightning rod for controversy and conflict from within the board and in the eyes of the public. It’s a position that causes far too much friction with board members, and the public is predisposed to be at odds with someone with such authority not being directly accountable to them.”
Haley was named interim city administrator by default after former administrator David Rutherford retired on Aug. 30, 2013 and the board failed to appoint a temporary replacement. A hiring process failed to secure a replacement.
Neal says Haley has too much power.
“The current situation of the mayor assuming these powers is not acceptable to me any longer,” said Neal. “This has created what some have referred to as a dictator."
Neal continued, "I believe the current administrator has overstepped his authority on more than one occasion and I will give you some examples.”
Haley refused to sell a firetruck that a committee wanted sold, says Neal.
“On Jan. 14, 2014, the Safety Committee met to discuss what should be done with a wrecked firetruck that was being stored at Station 2,” he said. “The committee voted unanimously to declare the truck surplus and offer it for sale at a 20 percent price above scrap. Following the action taken by the committee, the administrator contacted the fire chief and told him to disregard the action of the committee because he believed the truck was worth more.”
At the time of the situation, Haley was not directly supervising then-Fire Chief Keith Martin. Due to a pending legal situation created when Haley offered Martin a severance package to resign, Neal, as Safety Committee chairman, was delegated to directly oversee Martin.
“Haley’s action put the fire chief in a precarious situation because he did not know whose instruction he was obligated to follow. Nowhere in the municipal code is the administrator given the authority to set aside the action of a committee.”
Under current city policy, the Safety Committee has direct control over the fire department.
Neal says Haley has violated the spending policy twice: 1) He entered into a change order with AEI Architects to begin site development plans for the land behind the Blue Building to construct a police station and fire station without committee approval. Because the city had an existing contract with AEI, the plans were in addition to the work already being done by AEI and added $9,890 to the city’s cost. 2) He entered into a contract with Revize for the city’s new website at a total five-year cost of $29,980 without board approval.
By current city policy, the administrator must have Finance Committee permission to spend more than $5,000, and full city board permission to spend more than $10,000.
Haley also tried to make changes orders with the architect over Park Theatre renovations, says Neal.
“I have also been made aware that the administrator contacted the architect of Park Theatre in inference to making change orders without board approval,” Neal said. “These are just a few things I am aware of. Of greater concern to me are the things I might not be aware of. I have never witnessed or heard of anyone in government taking such actions to be in control of every situation in order to promote a personal agenda. No one in city government loves the city more than our current mayor and administrator. However, one’s love or thinking that their actions are what is best for the city does not annul the responsibility of following the municipal code or the authority invested in others elected.”
Neal says his push to eliminate the administrator position came after seeking qualified individuals and asking if they would be interested in filling the interim position and each declining the offer.
“We have been without an administrator close to a year now and I don’t believe there is a consensus among board members as to what the minimum qualifications should even be and I believe we have other things we should be turning our attention to other than this position. If a future board were to decide to reinstate the administrator position, they may do so at their own agony and dysfunction,” said Neal.
Prepared for some backlash over his request, Neal added, “We are all elected to be part of the decision-making process, not bystanders or on the sidelines. If we keep our mouth shut, we are exemplifying cooperation and statesmanship. However, if we voice our objections, we are deemed as troublemakers.”
While Alderman Ken Smith said he was in favor of eliminating the position as a way to end some controversy, Alderman Ben Newman was against it.
“I don’t agree with it,” Newman said. “I think we need a city administrator to manage the day-to-day affairs and overseeing that the policies and procedures set down by the board are put in place by the department heads. I think it would be a disservice to the city to do away completely with the position. When I ran for alderman, I thought maybe we should have a full-time mayor put in place so people could elect. But, I have seen that individuals who get elected aren’t always the most qualified. Not that they are bad people. They just don’t have the qualifications to complete that position. If we don’t agree with how our city administrator runs things, we can make changes by deferring some of those powers to the board.”
Eliminating the administrator position would mean committees and the board would have greater control over departments, as well as the authority to hire and fire department heads. Newman says he can see more problems being generated by board members having greater control over the day-to-day operations of the city.
“I don’t think a board needs to micro-manage a city,” said Newman. “I think we will run into more problems that way. We can’t come to a consensus on so many thing. I can’t image what it would be like to try and manage a city without a city administrator. So, I won’t vote for that.”
McMinnville Public Works director Bill Brock, who has been a city employee almost 30 years, says Newman is right.
“I was an alderman when we created the administrator position,” said Brock. “I then swapped over and worked for the city under a city administrator. When I was an alderman, the aldermen almost had to look after departments. You had seven bosses. You can’t have seven bosses. What one alderman tells you to do, another alderman will question why you are doing it. You get caught constantly in the crossfire as a department head.”
Brock says the city used to be run that way and it did not work.
“Would this work? Yes. Would there be abuse there? Wide open,” said Brock.
The recommendation to eliminate the position passed 2-1 and will be sent to the full board for its consideration July 22.