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Who will be Kingsport's next city manager?

Matthew Lane • Apr 30, 2019 at 9:43 AM

KINGSPORT — The Model City’s next city manager could once again come from within.

However, two aldermen have said they would prefer a national search for potential candidates, a process that could take at least four months to complete, according to several current and former elected officials.

Earlier this month, City Manager Jeff Fleming announced he would be retiring on June 21 after 35 years with the city, the last five as city manager. To get an idea on how city leaders would like to proceed with finding Fleming’s successor, the BMA held a special called meeting Monday afternoon to discuss their options.

The BMA can choose its next city manager however it wishes and is not bound by some formal process. City leaders can authorize a national search or simply offer the job to someone. When John Campbell retired in 2014, the city conducted a national search, but in the end it offered the top spot to Fleming.

SUCCESSION PLANNING

A common theme coming out of Monday’s meeting had to do with succession planning and promoting from within. Fleming said that from the very beginning of his tenure as city manager, he was working on succession planning, something former and current aldermen had stressed upon him.

Fleming addressed this issue by promoting Chris McCartt and Ryan McReynolds to assistant city manager positions and including them in his meetings with members of the BMA. Fleming described this as a “three-legged stool” approach to governance.

McCartt is interested in being Kingsport’s next city manager, McReynolds is not, Fleming said.

Campbell, who served as Kingsport’s city manager for eight years, spoke to the BMA on Monday about the importance of promoting from within.

“Do not undervalue the benefit of understanding the organization and the dynamics of the region,” Campbell said. “Johnson City made such progress in the  80s and ’90s because of continuity. It’s important because you can do the basics so easy and think about where you want to go.”

BMA THOUGHTS

Following comments by Fleming and Campbell, each member of the BMA weighed in on the issue. Here are their thoughts:

Colette George: “We have two very strong people ... and I’m very comfortable having Chris promoted to that position. Just do it. We did the procedure last time and it was a lengthy experience.”

Joe Begley: “I think we should go through the normal process of applying and searching. Chris is qualified and I hope he comes out on top, but I don’t think we should assume he’s the best.”

Betsy Cooper: “I think we’ve had the unique opportunity to see Chris the last five years. ... It’s almost been an interview process, to see how he communicates with his peers and the people who serve under him.”

Mike McIntire: “I’ve been observing Chris and Ryan for years. I have very high confidence in both of them, and they’re very effective together. They take one and one and equal about three.”

Tommy Olterman: “I think there should be a process, but after talking to Chris at length and seeing where his heart is, I really believe we’ve got the right person. He’s prepared for the job and certainly understands the workings of the city.”

Jennifer Adler: “There needs to be an open process that involves other competitive candidates. It should be a transparent process that’s competitive, and we should hear from all candidates presented.”

Mayor John Clark spoke last during Monday meetings and said he was not in favor of an outside search.

“In my mind, no one from outside of Tennessee can walk in here and pick up the pieces and drive relationships to another level,” Clark said. “I think it’s a dereliction of duty to hand the ball over to the new BMA and say ‘good luck’ on a city manager search.”

THE NEXT STEP

Following BMA discussion, city leaders agreed on Monday that McCartt would come before them at next week’s work session to share his view for the city. Then, if a majority of the BMA is comfortable, they would ask the city attorney to negotiate a compensation package with McCartt.

ABOUT CHRIS MCCARTT

McCartt is a native of Jonesborough and has been with the city of Kingsport since 1997. He began his career with the city as a transportation planner in the Metropolitan Planning Organization, then moved on to MPO coordinator in 2001, development services manager in 2004 and as the assistant to the city manager during Campbell’s tenure in 2008. Since 2014, McCartt has served as the assistant city manager for administration.

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