The town council here is considering hiring a consultant to work out the differences between the elected body and its town manager.
The town manager, Hardin Watkins, is due for his annual review, which started in July and has continued till now. The intent of the consultant is to bring in someone who is neutral and to give their thoughts on the working relationship between the two, some council members said.
“I think we are taking some very constructive steps to continue the conversation,” said Mayor Pro-tem Ken Marshburn. “We are probably going to make use of an outside source to help facilitate it. We’re always open to someone who can facilitate those discussions.”
How the consultant will be paid for, how much he or she will be paid or whether he or she will be paid is unclear. Council members did not give details.
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“We have discussed it, but there is nothing as of yet,” said council member Gra Singleton. “Nothing is 100 percent done. (A consultant) may be something that we may consider.”
Council members also declined to specify what issues it needs to work out with the manager, calling it a personnel matter.
“There is an ongoing annual evaluation with the town manager,” said councilman Buck Kennedy. “Any consultant –whether personnel, economic development, engineering – whenever the town hires one I think its important for the citizens to know that, but as of right now, we are evaluating the manager’s performance.”
The town council has called a number of closed session meetings in the past few months to discuss personnel matters, including a special meeting Watkins was not present for.
Watkins said in July, council members had individual concerns, but he did not specify them. Watkins said he wanted to address the concerns and answer any questions council members had. Sunday night he said the same.
“I am a committed professional, so any and all feedback is welcomed and valued,” Watkins said. “If that comes from my bosses then that’s great or if it comes from others, then that’s great as well. I’m always trying to improve. Any information I receive I willl act on it and put it to good use.”
During his 2014 annual review, council members set several goals – including building a better relationship with a fire department that suffered from the lingering effects of 2010 embezzlement charges against a former employee.
That relationship was strained some when the town inadvertently released the salaries and names of fire department employees in a budget document in April.
Watkins took responsibility for that and said he had not reviewed the document closely enough.
A council meeting behind closed doors with Watkins in April lasted three hours, two of which were spent on the budget issue. Some members were troubled that Watkins had given such a quick review of a document that shows how tax dollars are spent and why.
In a memo he wrote to the council, Watkins said he received the document the same day it was to be distributed at a work session and his review of the document was hurried.
Watkins said afterward council members were upset with him, and suggested he apologize to the fire chief in person.
Other goals were increasing his community involvement, and being quicker responding to council requests.
Dissent among board
Mayor Ronnie Williams said he was not in favor of hiring a consultant.
“I think we can go one-on-one with the manager and work out the differences,” Williams said. “I would think we could do that without paying someone from the outside.”
Recently, the town manager has sent weekly updates to the council to keep them informed about what’s happening with certain projects in the town.
Marshburn said the updates have been informative and signify a step in the right direction
“I don’t know that our relationship has been all that bad, but I think we are moving in a positive direction,” Marshburn said.
Council members would not say when a decision would be made regarding a consultant. The next council meeting is Sept. 8.
Efforts to reach council members Kathy Behringer and Jackie Johns were unsuccessful.