Council approves town manager’s reorganization plan

kjahner@newsobserver.comMay 27, 2014 

— Town council members voted last Tuesday to approve town manager Hardin Watkins’ efforts to reorganize leadership of the town with delegation and long-term goals in mind.

The idea had emerged early in the year when the town’s elected officials, effectively Watkins’ bosses, asked him about ways to help the town more efficiently reach long-term goals during his annual evaluation. Rather than have Watkins directly oversee 10 departments, he would create another assistant town manager position, expand the current assistant town manager’s direct oversight, and leave Watkins and others more time to pursue big-picture goals.

A few other hires will round out the changes. The new positions and potential raises to promote staff are funded in the proposed budget.“I think this proposal brings value town-wide,” Watkins said during the discussion.

Watkins said when he woke up in the morning he wasn’t sure how he’d feel going home. The council had scrutinized the plan and expressed some concerns, but ultimately gave the go-ahead.

“It’s the kind of hire that after its done, we wonder ‘how did we ever do without that before.’ That’s the kind of reaction I would want to have,” Councilman Buck Kennedy said while also asking some implicitly critical questions.

Kathy Behringer noted that “change is hard, even when it’s good change,” while other council members hammered at some of the details of how promoted employees would be replaced, and how that would affect the departments left behind. The new assistant town manager would delegate some duties while keeping others, depending on their department and expertise.

Watkins favors promoting the new assistant manager from within, arguing that internal knowledge would provide a seamless transition and offer employees professional growth opportunities. Some council members pushed a bit for consideration of outside candidates, but they didn’t attach any stipulations to the approval.

“Let’s quit tying your hands and telling you how to do your job,” Kennedy said after discussion of external candidates. “You’ve already got enough bosses.”

Councilman Gra Singleton cast a lone vote against approval as a matter of procedure. He did not disapprove of the plan; he simply didn’t think it the right time to vote on an issue pertaining to the budget before one had been adopted.

Ken Marshburn initiated the motion to adopt the plan.

“The plan as proposed here should free up the manager in ways we’ve asked him to consider,” Marshburn said.

Reconfiguration

Watkins had noted that currently he needs to maintain regular, working relationships with 10 department heads, the assistant manager, the special projects manager, six elected officials and external organizations – he figured a total of about 23 people.

Rodney Dickerson, the assistant town manager who already directly oversees information technology, would add the parks and recreation and public works departments under the plan.

The new assistant would oversee development-related departments, including engineering, planning, inspections and economic development. Current planning director Brad Bass’ name has been mentioned as a likely possibility; Kennedy used him as an example to prod at the process of transitions and new roles and responsibilities. Watkins tried to keep it hypothetical and has deflected talk of any particular hire or promotion.

The budget allows for a raise for the promoted or new hire, and an entry-level hire to replace a promoted staff member. A promoted staff member would pass on whatever duties he or she saw fit for that newcomer while keeping some duties along with overall oversight of multiple departments.

Watkins would then be able to manage a pair of assistant town managers, the police department and administration. The rest of his time could be spent nurturing external relationships in the region, working with elected officials and thinking about big picture issues.

Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland

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