published Saturday, May 11th, 2013

East Ridge reboots search for city manager candidates

East Ridge is 0 for 82 in turning city manager applications into actual city managers this year. But the City Council will keep searching.

The council voted unanimously this week to advertise the job opening again. East Ridge has functioned without a permanent city manager since Tim Gobble resigned Feb. 7.

In the three months since then, Eddie Phillips has served as interim city manager while continuing in his role as director of public safety.

In advertising the city manager position this time around, the East Ridge council wants to be as clear as it can be: All applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in public administration. Nothing else will do. Even if an applicant holds a master's degree in public administration, too bad.

"I think there are about a half dozen people in the world that may qualify," interim City Attorney Hal North said.

This educational requirement is part of the City Charter. A commission suggested adding the requirement before the 2008 general election, and a majority of citizens voted to approve the change. This year, that decision has bothered the council.

Of the 82 people who applied to take Gobble's place, only four held the required degree. One by one, those four dropped out of the hunt -- capped by former Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey's announcement Wednesday that he no longer wanted the job.

The council wants to change the charter to loosen the educational requirements, but the charter is untouchable until citizens vote on suggested changes in a regularly scheduled election. The next one will be a primary in May 2014.

For now, Phillips continues to work two jobs, and the council continues to look for a potential manager.

On Thursday, Councilman Marc Gravitt wondered whether the city could just hire someone with a master's degree in public administration, even though the charter demands the bachelor's degree.

"I don't see how it would be possible that a court or a judge would rule against us ... if we accept someone with a higher degree than what is stated in the charter," he said. "I mean, that baffles my mind."

"I think it does everybody," Vice Mayor Jim Bethune said.

North advised against this.

"Certainly you have the ability in this next round [of job applications)] to ignore that," he said, "but I can't say that you won't be the subject of a lawsuit. I can't say you won't be the subject of perhaps an ouster preceding. But I'm happy to be there to defend you. It's unfortunate, but that's what we're stuck with."

AGENDA CHANGES PROPOSED

Gravitt said the council should be able to change a meeting agenda at any point before the meeting, so long as that councilman is not acting alone. He and the other members of the council will vote on this potential change during their next meeting on May 23.

Under current rules, all councilmen must decide what they want to put on a meeting agenda at least a week before a meeting. If they decide they want to add another "emergency" item to the agenda after that, they must ask the mayor to do so. Only he can make that type of tweak.

For example, Councilmen Larry Sewell decided Monday that he wanted to discuss how the city should handle its city manager situation. He called Mayor Brent Lambert, and Lambert placed it on the agenda for Thursday's meeting.

At the meeting, Bethune said, "Why can [Lambert] put stuff on up to the time of the meeting --"

"And we can't?" Gravitt jumped in, ending Bethune's question. "That's my whole point."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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