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Citizen engagement needed in search for new Athens-Clarke County manager

By Michael H. McLendon

The 5 June ACC commission meeting was extraordinary. What began as a vote to accept the sudden resignation of Athens-Clarke County Manager Blaine Williams ended with all Commissioners, except Commissioner Culpepper, rubber stamping the Mayor’s FY25 budget and its tax increase. They also doubled-down by increasing spending! Kudos to Commissioner Culpeper for voting no on the budget and calling out ACC for excessive spending and taxes. More on that later.

Speculation

Many are speculating why the City Manager’s resigned. Comments by Commissioner Melissa Link at the Commission meeting alluded to some unspoken reasons that triggered his resignation.

The timing of his resignation is also interesting. InMarch we learned the mayor had worked secretly for three years to make Athens a refugee resettlement site. Perhaps this was not the only point of tension at City Hall. Shea Post, the Director of the Athens Homeless Shelter resigned her position on 24 May and on 7 June Heather Benham resigned her position as Director of the Athens Land Trust. Both were active in City Hall politics and their organizations benefited from ACC government $.

Sandwiched in between, Stephanie Johnson won the commission race for District 6. On the same day Benham resigned, Brad Griffin retired as Director of ACC’s Planning Department after 24 years. Griffin had told many of his plan months in advance so there is no mystery here.

The clouds obscuring why the City Manager resigned and how his decision is related to these other events, if at all, will dissipate in time as we learn the root causes. Let us wish Manager Williams well as he begins his next career journey and focus on the next steps.

 

Next Steps

The mayor immediately stated he plans to initiate a national search for a new city manager which seems rash. Rather than being reactive, the mayor and commissioners need to be thoughtful about how they should go about hiring a new city manager so there is full transparency into all aspects of the process. The same for seeking the next ACC Planning Director.

A transparent hiring process with active engagement of Athenians is essential to create confidence that the most competent candidate to address these challenges is hired so that person has the trust of citizens. If the mayor and commissioners keep citizens in the dark about the process and abuse the use of special called closed executive sessions to be secretive then no good will come of whatever they do. 

This is a real concern because City Hall is not the epitome of transparency about what it does and how it goes about its business. The mayor has demonstrated his penchant to be secretive and undermine transparency and certain members of the commission have been intent on limiting public engagement.

The stakes here are high and important.

The challenges the next city manager will face will be much different than when Manager Williams was promoted from assistant manager to his current role in 2016. At that time, he was only the fourth city manager since the ACC Unified Government was established.

We live in the smallest geographical county in Georgia, so any problem or challenge can quickly ripple across every community and aspect of our lives. Athens is different in 2024, in many ways, from the situation in 2016 and the challenges we face now and ahead are breathtaking along with the consequences if we do notthink and act wisely. Athens cannot be all things to all people all the time. It is imperative we be clear headed and use common sense rather than being driven by a progressive tax and spend ideology.

The selection of a new city manager (and planning director) will set the tone and approach for how ACC plans and manages going forward. The choices are clear. We either hire new key leaders who are committed to think and act wisely to lower the cost of government by being more efficient and effective, so life is affordable for all, or we continue the unsustainable tax and spend behavior making life more unaffordable and lowering the quality of life for many.

 

Principles to Guide the Process

To that end, the mayor and commissioners should consider the following principles to guide their actionsto ensure transparency, not secrecy.

• Take no action to hire a new city manager (and planning director) until the new District 6 Commissioner is in place to fully participate in the vetting and interviews of candidates. There is no reason to handicap a new city manager (and planning director).

• Precede and pace this process by two actions:

o A comprehensive and transparent evaluation of all aspects of how ACC plans, budgets, and executes all operations to set a baseline for future assessment of the performance of a new manager.

o Initiate a long overdue comprehensive review, with active public participation, of the ACC Charter and the alignment of roles, responsibilities, and authorities of officials and functions to achieve a more efficient, effective, and affordable government.

• Cancel the proposed reorganization of the City Manager’s office and the growth in staff so a new manager has the opportunity to make his or her own judgements about how to best organize to achieve improved performance.

• Engage the public in determining the competencies, experience, and characteristics/attributes needed in a new city manager who may serve into the mid-2030s.

• Set townhall type events so the public can interact with each of the final candidates for the city manager position. This is critical given the nature of the challenges facing ACC and the role, responsibility, and authority of the ACC city manager under ACC’s form of government.

• Precede this process by a comprehensive and transparent evaluation of all aspects of how ACC plans, budgets, and executes all operations to set a baseline for future assessment of the performance of a new manager.

Initiate a long overdue comprehensive review, with active public participation, of the ACC Charter and the alignment of roles, responsibilities, and authorities of officials and functions to achieve a more efficient, effective, and affordable government.

 

Fellow Athenians

Take the time to voice your desires to the mayor and commission now that the selection process for the next city manager must be transparent, engage the public, and follow these basic principles. The stakes are too high to sit on the sidelines. Get engaged.

As for me, I vote for a hiring hard-nosed city managerwith keen business acumen. Somone with a record of bending the cost curve of government and right sizinglocal government; and realigning priorities to address core mission needs first, not feed insatiable desires, and wants as is the case today. Above all, we need to restore common sense to governing the Classic City.

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2 comentários


Thank you Michael for your thoughtful and informative analysis on this topic. Your insights and recommendations are far better than anything we’re likely to hear from the mayor or majority of the commission. I’m sure Girtz would gladly use this situation to put his greasy handprints on local government to soil its operations long after he is removed from office. Whether the current government will move forward with a genuine concern for all of ACC’s citizens or continue to serve the interests of their comrades and fellow travelers remains to be seen.

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ThatGirl
ThatGirl
18 de jun.

Was this written by a toddler? Does no one proofread anything anymore?

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