The Town Council hired an acting town manager on Wednesday and approved a new organizational plan the mayor said he hopes will continue to help streamline town operations after the manager returns from temporary health leave.
The council voted unanimously to contract with Hal Mason of Garner, a retiree with longtime service in municipal government in North and South Carolina.
Both the hire and the new government structure were approved during the consent agenda portion of the meeting reserved for items not requiring public discussion and council members made no comment during the meeting about the changes.
Mason is to have his first meeting with town staff Thursday. He will work about 10 hours a week until Town Manager Seth Lawless returns to work, and he will be paid $40 an hour.
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“My job is to basically hold things together,” Mason said after the meeting. “The town has very competent department managers, and they can pretty much run things. If the mayor or council need something, I’ll be there.”
Mason was appointed the first town administrator of James Island, S.C., near Charleston, in 2011.
He previously served as city administrator of Hanahan, S.C., also near Charleston. He worked for the town of Shelby, in Cleveland County, for 26 years, serving as the city manager there for seven years before taking the Hanahan job.
“He has a load of experience that he brings to town government,” Mayor James Roberson said of Mason.
Roberson said the town was able to find the money to hire Mason because it went without a finance director for six months after the town fired former finance director Jimmy Overton.
Avoiding conflict of interest
Hiring Mason helps the town avoid a conflict of interest that existed when Administrative Services Director Suzanne Yeatts was put in charge of town operations. That arrangement would have required her to report directly to the town council, but one of the council members, Pete Mangum, is Yeatts’ brother.
Town officials expect Lawless back in about two months but don’t have official word from the manager and don’t know for sure how long it will be.
“We are looking forward to having Seth back,” Roberson said. “We just want to have measures in place to continue operating smoothly.”
The new organizational plan cuts the number of people reporting directly to the manager from seven to three, according to a town release. Those reporting to Mason would be Yeatts, Police Chief Lawrence Capps and Development Services Director Chris Hills.
Capps would oversee public safety and Yeatts would oversee administrative services, parks and recreation, and communications. Hills would oversee development services and public works.
The new structure would not affect titles or compensation, according to the town.
No public discussion
Council members said they felt it was OK to adopt the reorganization without public discussion because they each had discussed it one-on-one with Roberson in advance.
“It was just an easier way to do it,” said Mayor pro-tem Mike Chalk. “It’s all in-house and everybody seems to like it. Why not consent agenda?”
Roberson said he talked with Lawless and each council member independently about the change and got positive responses.
Those discussions came after an hour-long closed session on Feb. 1 during which council members discussed personnel matters, including Lawless’ medical leave. State law does not permit closed-door discussions about reorganizing the town staff’s reporting structure.
Matt Goad: 919-829-4826