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Kingsport mayor clarifies remarks on BMA oversight of hiring, firing, city manager and charter

November 28th, 2013 11:17 pm by Matthew Lane

Kingsport mayor clarifies remarks on BMA oversight of hiring, firing, city manager and  charter

KINGSPORT — Remember two weeks ago, when Mayor Dennis Phillips said he would like to see the Board of Mayor and Aldermen hire the police chief, city attorney and city recorder, rather than the city manager? 

That’s really not what he meant to say.

“What I said was not what I really meant,” Phillips said recently.

At the end of a four-hour work session two week ago, Phillips brought up the idea of having the BMA oversee the hiring of the police chief, city attorney and city recorder positions, rather than the city manager. Phillips said the change would be going back to how it was in the original city charter.

But that’s not really how it was.

Kingsport’s city charter originally had the BMA setting the salaries of those three positions, but not doing the actual hiring. That responsibility remained with the city manager. In 2001, the BMA changed the city charter so that the BMA did not set the salaries for those three positions.

Phillips said he does not want the BMA to approve the hiring or salaries of those positions, only their termination.

“I would like to have it so if one of those three positions is terminated by the city manager, that it would take board approval. I think it gives them some protection,” Phillips clarified to the Times-News recently. “I may be straining at something that doesn’t need a thing to do, but the time to correct things is when they’re not happening.” 

As he said two weeks ago, Phillips reiterated the suggested change is no reflection on City Manager John Campbell, who has been with Kingsport a little over seven years.

Phillips admits the BMA is the oversight for the city manager’s position.

“Someone could bring it before the board. You could. Then it becomes the talk of the town and it may or may not be factual,” Phillips said. “We have no outlet to ask the police chief or city attorney to check on something that may involve the city manager, that may or may not be true.” 

“You need the ability to do that first step before you accuse someone because once you accuse someone, they’re always guilty.” 

Two weeks ago, several other members of the BMA thought the suggestion needed to be discussed, calling it a “checks and balance” issue. Phillips said he intends to bring the topic back up for further discussion at next week’s BMA work session.

“If there was criminal activity brought to a BMA member’s attention, that involved the city manager, I would like for that BMA member to be able to go to an appropriate person and do an investigation without that person being afraid they would get fired over it,” Phillips said.

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