At a special called meeting Friday morning, East Ridge City Council members interviewed Chris Dorsey, the last of three initial interviews for the city manager position. Two other candidates were interviewed via Skype earlier in the week. Mr. Dorsey, who was city manager of Red Bank from 2005-2011, still owns a house in the Chattanooga area where his family lives and was available for a personal interview since he had planned on being in town this weekend. He currently is working as budget director for Pasco County, Fla.
Interim City Attorney Hal North led off the questioning to verify that Mr. Dorsey has a bachelor’s degree in public administration which the city charter specifies the city manager must have. He also verbally confirmed that he has had three-five years experience in municipal government.
He graduated from the University of Tennessee where he received the BA degree, and from there moved back to his home city of Memphis where he worked in city government for the next 18 years. There he held various positions in community development, and public works. In Memphis, he also had experience in purchasing, personnel and especially with budget and finance, he told the commissioners. Memphis at that time had a $300 million operating and $300 million capital improvements budget. In 2005, he accepted the position of city manager of Red Bank.
Responding to questions from each council member, he said that as far as writing grants he had not done that by himself. He had worked with Southeastern Tennessee Regional Planning to secure grants for Red Bank.
As for interaction with employees, citizens and commissioners, Mr. Dorsey responded that he believed in an open door policy with employees if the preferred “chain of command” does not resolve the matter in question. He said that in Red Bank he had good dialogue with citizens and had been involved in neighborhood associations. As for working with city council members, his belief is “the city manager should be behind the wheel. You would tell me where to steer.” And, he believes the council should be made aware of any problems that might arise and vice-versa.
In creating a budget, he said that first the city’s state shared revenue must be known. Once a budget is established, it is important to monitor actual numbers against it throughout the year where choices may need to be made to adhere to the numbers. He believes that department heads should be responsible for staying within their portions of the budget. In the six years as city manager in Red Bank, he said each year came in under budget.
Since he lived in the area for six years, Mr. Dorsey is familiar with the city of East Ridge and had dealt with a lot of the city’s personnel in the past. He said he was aware of the issues with extended stay hotels and the council’s desire to attract businesses to Ringold Road. This led Mayor Brent Lambert to ask what kind of experience he has had with economic development. He replied that it should be a priority. The council should be involved, he stated, saying he would need guidance and support from them in this regard. In Red Bank he was involved in the attempt to attract a hotel and locating the Bi-Lo on Dayton Boulevard. He also is familiar with how to work with the Hamilton County Economic Development Board in order to offer incentives to businesses.
He told the council members he feels it is important to have open records requests for transparency in government; however, he also realizes this can become a burden. Some requests should be filled free of charge, but there should be a charge to recover the costs of preparation when they become excessive. He believes there should be a time limit of seven-10 days for the city to initially respond - about the actual time it would take to fulfill the request.
Mr. Dorsey sees his strongest point as being able to communicate and get along with a large variety of people. He believes his weakness is procrastination. Surrounding yourself with good people and technology helps with that, he said.
His close friends would describe him as being dependable and reliable, easy to talk to, easy going, and family oriented, he responded when asked.
If offered the job, Mr. Dorsey could begin work in a month, which would give him time to complete the budget he is in the process of preparing for Pasco County. He said he would have no problem with establishing a residency in East Ridge as required in the city charter, and the salary range of $90,000-$105,000 is satisfactory.
Since the city is in the process of reviewing the charter, his question to the council members was, if the council/manager form of government would change? Marc Gravitt said that was not one of the issues in question when he made the request for revising the charter. Mr. Dorsey said he would not want to make a move if it was likely the city manager’s position would be eliminated.
Mayor Lambert ended the interview saying the council would probably move forward in about two weeks. Following the meeting, Councilman Larry Sewell said that more than likely the two other candidates would be asked for a face to face interview, since that creates an unfair advantage if all do not get the personal interview.