Phillips To Serve As East Ridge Interim City Manager For 6th Time; Charter Limits Naming Of Permanent City Manager

Monday, February 11, 2013
Eddie Phillips
Eddie Phillips

The East Ridge City Council at a special meeting Monday night agreed to pay Eddie Phillips an extra $1,000 per month to serve - for the sixth time - as interim city manager.

At the same time, the panel voted to immediately advertise for a permanent city manager.

However, officials noted that the pool of candidates is severely limited by the current city charter. It has a requirement of a bachelor's degree in public administration. It was noted that governmental officials are more likely to have a master's degree in public administration and a bachelor's degree in something else - that does not meet the terms of the charter.

There is also the requirement of 3-5 years of municipal government experience.   

Council members said they might not be able to find an acceptable candidate meeting those requirements and would have to wait until the charter can be changed in November 2014.

It was also noted that under the current charter that a city manage's contract lasts only as long as the terms of the council members who appointed him. In other words, there would have to be a new election for city manager every two years.

Vice Mayor Jim Bethune said he knew of three qualified candidates, but he said none of them had a bachelor's degree in public administration.

Councilman Marc Gravitt asked if anyone in the audience had a bachelor's in public administration. No one did, though one said she has a master's in public administration. "I wouldn't have the job," she said, drawing laughs.

The meeting was called after the council last week accepted the resignation of City Manager Tim Gobble. He did so after it appeared he was about to be fired by a 3-2 council majority.

Mr. Gobble wound up with seven months of severance pay in the deal.

That departure came after the council in mid-December ousted City Attorney John Anderson.

Mr. Phillips said he currently makes $77,000. Vice Mayor Bethune said counting a city leave buy-back program he made over $86,000 last year.

Mr. Phillips said the minimum pay for city manager under the city's current pay plan was about $93,000. However, Vice Mayor Bethune said, with the leave buy-back, that would put him over $100,000.

He said the average city manager pay for a city the size of East Ridge is $83,000.

The vote was unanimous for paying Mr. Phillips an extra $1,000 per month as long as he serves as interim city manager - except for Councilman Larry Sewell, who wanted to pay him the $93,000.

Mr. Phillips said of the discussion about his pay. "It's not worth arguing about to me. I don't care."

But he said he was still at $77,000, while a police chief for the city 12 years ago was making $94,000.

Mr. Phillips is also city public safety director - over both the fire and police. He said East Ridge has the fourth-ranked fire department in the country and said the police department leads the metro area in arrests and response time.

He told the council members, "I'll do the job 100 percent whether you pay me anything extra or not. If you want to put somebody else in, that's fine. I didn't ask for this."

Applications are to be sent to City Attorney Hal North. He will check to see if the applicant has a bachelor's degree in public administration and 3-5 years of municipal government experience. 

Councilman Sewell said of the Gobble departure, "He was basically forced out. We (he and Mayor Lambert) didn't know about it until we walked in the meeting."  

Vice Mayor Bethune said he and Councilman Denny Manning were kept in the dark for two years while Mayor Brent Lambert and Councilman Sewell had former Councilman Darwin Branam voting with them.

Councilman Manning questioned why Mayor Lambert and Councilman Sewell had made public comments about the Gobble exit. He said during an executive meeting he thought there was an understanding that no one was to go to the media on the topic.

Mayor Lambert said he never agreed to that and was free to speak out "about that travesty."

Mr. Phillips wondered what would happen to the city leadership "if I go home tonight and my wife finds out about the pay and kills me."

He said if there is no one who can be found to run the city under the current hard-to-meet charter  requirements "the state can come in, pull your charter, and you'll be part of Chattanooga." 

Councilman Manning questioned the status of the "$35,000 19-year-old," asking if he was subject to being dismissed. He referred to Chris Claybough, a church friend that Mr. Gobble had hired.

Mr. Phillips said East Ridge had moved away from an "at will" city and that employees could only be fired "for cause." 



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