Kingsport Times News Saturday, November 29, 2014

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Three of four Model City manager finalists were recently fired

March 25th, 2014 11:29 pm by Matthew Lane

Three of four Model City manager finalists were recently  fired

KINGSPORT — Three of the four finalists in the running to be Kingsport's next city manager have been fired from a previous job in recent years.

However, being fired is very common within the city manager profession and is something that happens to nearly every one at some point in their career, said Pat Hardy with the Municipal Technical Advisory Service.

"Nobody wants it to happen, but it would be an accepted part of the profession," Hardy said.

Kingsport has been in the midst of finding its next city manager since John Campbell announced his retirement in December after nearly eight years with the city and more than 30 years in city government. Campbell's retirement is effective June 30.

MTAS, a state agency that advises Tennessee cities, has been handling the search for the Model City, narrowing down the 61 resumes received to 10 recommended finalists. Last week, the BMA decided on four finalists to interview, along with one alternate.

Since then, one finalist — Dan Porta, the assistant city manager of Cartersville, Ga. — has withdrawn his name from consideration.

The four candidates the BMA intends to interview next week are Jeff Fleming, the current assistant city manager for development in Kingsport; Jack Hamlett, former city manager of Rosenberg, Texas; Russell Hawes, former city administrator of Simpsonville, S.C.; and Sue McLaughlin, the current city administrator of Lincoln, Ill.

According to newspaper articles published in their respective communities, Hamlett, Hawes and McLaughlin have been fired from their manager/administrative positions in recent years.

Hamlett was fired in July 2013 on a 4-to-3 vote of the city council. Three members of the council who voted to end Hamlett's employment were newly elected, and the council did not disclose the reason for the firing.

In January, the city council of Simpsonville also voted 4-to-3 to fire Hawes.

The vote came right on the heels of two new members of the city council being sworn into office, and some in the community linked the termination to the firing of a popular police chief.

Prior to going to Lincoln in February 2013, McLaughlin was fired as city administrator of Mattoon, Ill., after two years on the job. The city council voted 4-to-1 to fire McLaughlin after she proposed the city sell 4.7 acres of lake property to her fiance.

Hardy said the city manager/administrator is the one position in the entire structure of the city that is sandwiched between politics and the administration.

"And that sandwich creates all kinds of different dynamics," Hardy said. "The one that results sometimes in the loss of a job is usually associated with changes on the board. A new group might come in and have different ideas of how they want to approach things. If they have a majority, the first place they'll look is the city manager to make their changes."

Much like the apparent case with Hamlett and Hawes.

As for McLaughlin, Hardy said an investigation was done at the time and she was cleared. Coupled with a letter from the Mattoon city attorney, which explained the situation, Hardy said he was satisfied, which is why he included her in MTAS' top 10 list for Kingsport.

"It happens to nearly every manager at some point in their career. Not everybody, but nearly everybody," Hardy said.

Hardy said if he were a member of the BMA, he would not be concerned with these firings.

"When I look into their background, I always try to look for a couple of things — what's been a person's tenure and if they were fired, why and has it happened more than twice," Hardy said. "These seem to be really good candidates and it hasn't happened multiple times in their careers. I think we're fine."

MTAS has authorized criminal background checks and is conducting management checks on the four finalists.

The management checks are expected to wrap up by April 4. Finalist interviews with the BMA are scheduled for April 10 and 11.

Two other candidates in MTAS' top 10 list have also been fired in recent years after short stints at their respective cities — Tim Hacker in North Las Vegas, Nev., and Michael Kovacs in Galveston, Texas.

Of the remaining top 10, one retired from a city manager job after 33 years in government, one resigned in 2012 to take an executive job in the private sector and another is currently employed as an interim city manager.

In our region, elected officials have fired or pressured out a number of city managers over the years, including ones in Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City. Sometimes the city managers sensed they were going to be fired and went ahead and moved on elsewhere.

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