Being city manager at Mount Carmel is more than just a tough job for Mike Housewright, who never knows from one meeting to the next when a couple of aldermen are again going to come after his job.
For the third time in three years, Housewright’s job was on the block at the Jan. 28 meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Alderman Jim Gilliam rose to recite a list of things he said Housewright “should have done but didn’t.” They included such ridiculous laments as some trash found on a roadway, that the pad at the local fire department had not been repaved, and that another road had not been striped.
“I don’t know what the answer is, but you’re the town manager,” Gilliam said. Housewright may be fortunate that Gilliam did not criticize him for the weather.
But the rest of the board had an answer. They voted to guarantee Housewright a six-month severance package should he be terminated without cause by the BMA. Two votes were cast in opposition. They came from Gilliam and Alderman Steve McLain, who each have previously attempted to remove Housewright.
Their problem isn’t with Housewright. The problem is that at least some of the aldermen — clearly Gilliam and McLain, at least — don’t understand the city manager form of government. Or they’re too power hungry to allow the present form of government to function as it should.
Mount Carmel formerly operated a strong mayor form of government that for many years was rife with incompetence and mismanagement. In 2016, the town and BMA had enough and moved to a city manager form of government under Housewright. A minority on the BMA has been fighting it since, in hopes they could get back the power now held by the city manager.
They do not represent the majority of the community, much less the board. But that hasn’t stood in their way.
In 2018, the board defeated a motion by former Mayor Chris Jones to fire Housewright after Jones blamed Housewright for an $800,000 budget deficit. The deficit was later found to have resulted from decisions made before Housewright assumed the position in November 2017.
A year later, McLain said he was unhappy with Housewright’s performance. He didn’t ask that Housewright be fired, but that the position of city manager be eliminated with the city manager’s authority to be returned to the board. The intent to regain power lost to the city manager was obvious, and defeated.
The current majority on the BMA is hoping that the six-month severance package will bring an end to these regular attempts to return to the past. The agreement was drafted by City Attorney John Pevy using examples provided by the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service. “This is an industry standard,” Alderman Jim Gibson said. “There are plenty of examples of city managers within the state of Tennessee that have a severance agreement.”
Gibson added, “If you look at the way we’ve treated our city manager for the past three years, I think we would be remiss to think we’re going to have an easy time replacing him because who would want to come with no security, and to know that they can be brought out in the public once a month, as many times as (board members) wanted to, and have to fight for their lives. It’s not something that is a bonus or anything like that. This is a piece of security that lends notice that we won’t just fire him for arbitrary political reasons.”
Let’s hope it works. Better, though, that voters remove aldermen who don’t represent the best interests of Mount Carmel residents as a whole.