The town council here will not hire a consultant to aid in its annual evaluation of the town manager after all.
The town council held a special-closed door session Tuesday, in what was supposed to be a meeting with the consultant. However, at the start of the meeting, the consultant was not there.
The meeting lasted a little more than an hour. Town Manager Hardin Watkins left before the start of the meeting, and council member Gra Singleton had an excused absence.
Council member Buck Kennedy declined to comment about the consultant. He said it was a personnel matter dealing with the manager’s evaluation. He deferred all questions to Mayor Ronnie Williams.
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Williams, speaking on behalf of the town council, said the person they were interested in, Steve Raper, a retired town manager in Rocky Mount, changed his mind about serving as a mediator between the town manager and the council, which has had concerns with the manager’s performance in recent months.
As a consultant, Raper would be a neutral voice.
“It was his decision,” Williams said of Raper. “He decided after reading your paper, he didn’t want to get into something that would appear to be controversial.”
Efforts to reach Raper were unsuccessful.
Williams said the council will not look for another consultant and will try “to work through the issues concerning the town,” amongst themselves.
Concerns by the council first surfaced in April, when the council announced a special-closed door meeting to discuss a personnel matter and met without the manager present.
Watkins confirmed the meeting was to talk about him.
During Watkins’ 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 at another meeting 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.
Watkins confirmed the council set some goals in the April meeting that they wanted him to meet and that they were going to revisit the issue in six months to determine whether he was meeting the goals.
He did not say what those goals were.
But through emails, council members have expressed gratitude for the manager’s efforts in recent weeks to keep the town council informed about the happenings in the town and the status of certain projects.
Watkins has been adamant in saying he will do what it takes to address council members concerns. He has previously said it is sometimes difficult to get a grasp on the individual concerns of six different bosses (five council members and the mayor).
Williams said going forward, council members plan to write down a list of concerns that they will compile for the manager to address.