Red Bank city commissioners on Tuesday afternoon interviewed the two finalists in their search for a city manager. Charles Beal, who presently is the city clerk and recorder for McKenzie, Tn., and Randall Smith, who currently has a business that helps private sector businesses form government partnerships, fielded questions at City Hall from Mayor Monty Millard, Vice Mayor John Roberts and Commissioners Floy Pierce, Ruth Jeno and Ken Welch.
Commissioners said that the person filling this position needs to have strong leadership and the ability to hire and fire employees. The city manager job includes getting involved with the local Chamber of Commerce, and community organizations to make Red Bank a more desirable place to live. They need help in marketing the city and are looking for a manager that will be able to provide ideas and help to promote Red Bank. They stressed to both candidates, that this is not considered to be an eight-to-four job.
Charles Beal’s background is in finance. Before working in city government, he was a branch manager and regional vice president of Union Planters Bank in McKenzie for 15 years. He told the commissioners that after the bank changed hands the ability to give personal service was taken away from the local branch, he decided it was time that he left. In his present position as city clerk he makes sure the various departments of the city stay within budgets, and that they follow mandates from the state of Tennessee and the federal government.
He described the job in McKenzie, as running the day-to-day business. Vice Mayor Roberts asked if the other people knew he was in charge. “To a point” he answered. “I know what is going on”, but if there is a disagreement, the person involved can go to the mayor.
In McKenzie, the procedure for managing personnel is different than in Red Bank. Mr. Beal does not hire and fire, but is able to recommend a hearing for a problem employee. It is the board that hears the complaints and the mayor makes the final decision. He assured the commissioners that he had personnel experience from his past work at the bank. Responding to the question of the steps he would take to deal with an issue such as this, he said he would first review the personnel file, and discuss the matter with the department head, then talk to the individual one-on-one. From his past military experience, he told the board that he believes in a chain of command but that he also thinks that some instances need to be done at a higher level and said he has always had an open door policy.
The budget he manages for that municipality is around $6.3 million. He said that if a deficit occurs his last choice would be to raise taxes. He first would be to pull from a reserve or to cut expenses. Grants are another consideration, but he has no experience in writing them.
His management style is to delegate authority, and believes that the best decisions are “made by the group”. Commissioner Jeno said that Dayton Boulevard now has empty buildings and that the city needs help in recruiting businesses, and asked what he would do about that. He was also asked what experience he has had with developing infrastructure. His encounters with developing city expansion has been to work with the local chamber of commerce, non-profit organizations, individual developers, and marketing people, he responded. Mr. Beal said that the first step would be for the city to list what they want and then put the mechanisim in place for a three, five and 10-year plan.
Questioned about how he would handle complaints of problems concerning the police officers congregating and not patrolling in the neighborhoods, he said that it should be the responsibility of the chief of police, to schedule officers and know where they are during the day. That department needs to have leadership.
He described his vision for the job as the city manager being a “captain of the ship.” His job would be to stay the course in order to achieve the defined objectives.
Randall Smith’s concept of a city manager is seeing himself as a team coach. He doesn’t believe in micro-managing, and thinks that the department heads should have the responsibility for day-to-day operations. In this position, he would be responsible for the big picture, he said.
Mr. Smith told the commissioners that a lot of his background is in sales and marketing. He said that he had worked with CEOs and understands what companies look for. He described his present work as helping private sector companies get through red tape, and to help them understand and negotiate through the process of doing business with a government agency. His company now is “a one man show” that contracts with others if additional help is needed. Before this business, he worked for the department of transportation / governor’s highway safety departments in Florida and Tennessee. In Tennessee he managed a $20 million per year budget and in Florida, $35-$40 million.
When asked how he would handle a deficit in the budget, he like Mr. Beale, would look to make tough decisions about reducing services or personnel, but would first look for alternative sources of incomes in the form of grants. He told the commissioners that he was very proficient in writing grants.
His management style is to respect all employees and would make everyone a part of the team since they would all be working toward the same goal and for the common good. His said that he would not make wholesale changes or changes just for the sake of change. Each department would be evaluated and asked to define their goals and objectives. To set up a plan for where to take the city, he would look to the commission to define what they would like to see in 10 years, in the way of bringing jobs and improving the quality of life. He would also seek citizen input in order to formulate a plan. In his past jobs, Mr. Smith has been responsible for managing around 20 employees.
He believes in following a chain of command. He thinks that a grievance procedure should always be followed. If a problem persists, he would bring it before the entire board. He added that his door would always be open, however he would not plan on being the first line of grievance.
Concerning a growth plan for the city, he would want to steer the city in the right direction with the right kind of growth. When asked if he had any experience in developing infrastructure, he answered that in the transportation departments, he had done evaluations for EPA. He has no experience in building commercial buildings. He said that he was not an engineer or architect, but would rely on them for advice. “I have enough knowledge to know if it’s worth the return on your investment”, he stated.
As for taxes, he told the board that he was a fiscal conservative and would stretch the budget. Commissioners related the reason for the recent tax increase, and the need to improve roads and to clean up the city, both of which have been neglected for years. Mr. Smith told them that, is where planning comes in. With a plan, everything would not be needed all at once. He would work with department heads to create a feasible strategy to get things done.
Mr. Smith was asked about his connections and replied that he knows a lot of people at TDOT, the Department of Revenue, Homeland Security and some in the legislature. He said “I’m not their hunting buddies, but I have access to them.”
The first project he would expect to work on would be evaluating vacant property and to try to lure businesses to the city. He would also want to hear from the citizens to see if they are getting the service they need and to determine the public expectations.
Mr. Smith told the commissioners that he was attracted to this job because he is a native of Lynchburg, Tn., and Red Bank would be close to his home town. He also said that he had skills and ability in urban planning and that to be city manager, “would be sort of his dream job.”
Mayor Millard told the commissioners that there would be a work-study meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 2, where they would discuss the candidates. He said a decision would be made sometime in the next month.