• 66°

Washington’s city manager asked to resign

By Staff
Smith asserts he
has no intention
of stepping down
Contributing Editor
One Washington City Council member is calling for City Manager James C. Smith to resign.
At the council’s July 14 meeting, Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer said he wanted Smith’s “resignation for gross insubordination.”
Two weeks later, Mercer feels the same way.
During an interview Tuesday, Smith said he has no intention of resigning.
Asked if Mercer’s request for his resignation came as a surprise, Smith said, “It did. He kind of lost his temper there. … He was already kind of agitated, and I let it go at that.”
Resignation request
Mercer’s request for Smith’s resignation came on July 14 as the council discussed a request to make an exception for the hiring freeze implemented by the council earlier this year. Anita Radcliffe, interim finance director for the city, was seeking the council’s authorization to fill a vacant field-representative’s position in the city’s customer-services division.
On July 14, Mercer made it clear he was not happy with how “staff” complied with some of his requests for information, saying he often receives no information or partial information. Mercer also said he was upset that specific instructions given by the council have been ignored.
Mercer contended that “staff” had hired at least two employees since the hiring freeze was put into effect from March 17 until Aug. 15. He also contended, that to his knowledge, a transfer of an employee from customer-service division to the inspections division was not approved by the council. Radcliffe said the employee Mercer was referring was in the hiring process when the council imposed the hiring freeze. Smith said the city had already offered to hire Avery Andrews before the council imposed the hiring freeze. Mayor Judy Meier Jennette said she concurred with Radcliffe and Smith’s assessment of the hiring situation.
Mercer contended that Andrews was interviewed in April and reported to work April 28. Radcliffe said she did not have the dates of Andrews’ interview and reporting to work with her. Radcliffe said Carol Williams, the city’s finance director in March, gave the OK to interview Andrews. That interview was conducted by Williams and herself, Radcliffe told the council. After the interview, a job offer was made to Andrews, Radcliffe said.
Mercer asked Radcliffe when that job offer was made. Radcliffe said she did not have that information with her.
The discussion also included discourse about the hiring of a supervisor in the Public Works Department under similar circumstances.
Mercer said as far as he was concerned, a hiring freeze was in effect and any requests concerning filling vacant positions or hiring someone should have been brought to the council for its consideration. He said the council would be willing to make an exemption to the hiring freeze if it could be shown there was a pressing reason to hire someone.
Smith described the July 14 incident as a “heat of the moment” situation.
Smith said that during several meetings he had with Mercer and others this spring and early summer to discuss budget matters, Mercer never questioned the two hirings. Smith said he would have preferred that Mercer approach him privately about his concerns rather than doing so in a public forum.
Mercer said Smith has failed to move the city’s inspections division from the Washington Fire-Rescue-EMS-Inspections Department to the Planning Department, where it used to be located. Mercer said Councilman Gil Davis made a motion — approved by the council — to transfer the inspections division to the Planning Department and “do it as soon as practical.”
Smith said it’s the council’s job to set policy, and it’s his job to serve as the administrator when it comes to running the city.
The same holds true when the city manager tries to do the council’s job, he said.
It’s not unusual for a city council or board of commissioners, either as a whole or for some of its members, and a city manager or county manager to experience conflicts from time to time.
Smith said that’s what’s happening with him and Mercer.
For the city to function properly, it needs quality, competent employees, Smith said.
Mercer said he has not asked other council members or the mayor to support his call for Smith’s resignation.
On Monday, Councilman Archie Jennings, who asked for a “return to decorum” after the heated discussion neared an end, said he retains his confidence in Smith to manage the city. Jennings said he does not support Mercer’s call for Smith to resign.
Jennings said he is aware of the strained relationship between Mercer and Smith.
Jennings said he asked for the mayor to restore decorum because Mercer had made his point and made it forcefully.
Mayor Judy Meier Jennette, during a brief interview Tuesday, said she does not support Mercer’s call for Smith to resign. Jennette said she “absolutely” has confidence in Smith’s abilities to manage the city.
Asked to describe Mercer’s request during the July 14 meeting, Jennette said, “Tempest in a teapot would be my assessment of it.”
Councilman Richard Brooks said he does not support Mercer’s request for Smith to resign. Brooks said he also has confidence in Smith to manage the city.
Asked if he’s satisfied with Smith’s performance as city manager, Brooks said, “So far, I am.”
Smith began working as city manager in January 2006. In November 2007, the council awarded a $4,000 bonus to Smith for his efforts to improve the city’s finances.
Telephone messages from the Washington Daily News that were left for council members Darwin Woolard and Gil Davis were not returned.
Smith said he plans to “demonstrate a positive performance” to the council, including Mercer, when it comes to managing the city.
Smith said he believes that by working with the mayor and other council members that Mercer and he “can get agreement on how to work together.”