By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted this week to hire Thomas F. Christie as the first city manager under the new City Charter.
Board members took the action Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Mike Caruthers and seconded by Alderman Frankie Dakin.
Christie, former city manager of Salem, Ill., was one of four finalists for the position publicly interviewed on Nov. 26, 2012 at City Hall by the newly elected board members.
The applicants were required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in public administration or a related field and a minimum of five years of senior administrative-level experience in local government, as well as strong supervisory, budgeting and communication skills.
On a motion offered by Alderman Hank Hawkins and seconded by Caruthers, the board also approved a job description for the city manager.
Christie will be responsible for administering all city services and departments, including finance, human resources, recreation, codes enforcement, police, fire, water, sanitation, public works, sewer, planning and economic development.
City Attorney Barbara Lapides said Christie sent her an e-mail last weekend stating that, if hired, he expected to arrive in Millington with his wife yesterday afternoon “in time to pick up the office keys and vehicle.” And today would be his first “full day” in his new job.
“The first day would include a lengthy staff meeting,” he wrote, “so that I can get up to speed as quickly as possible and resolve pending issues.”
Christie said he will initially stay for two weeks, because that is the minimum amount of time that the Admiralty at Plantation Oaks leases an efficiency suite. Working with a real estate broker, he will search for a permanent residence in the late afternoons and on weekends.
After the first two weeks, he will return to Illinois to check on his house and the moving process. He will be back in Millington on Jan. 27 for another two to three weeks.
“His expectation is that, until he gets a permanent home, they would be back and forth some,” Lapides told the board members. “They have to get their house sold and deal with the moving.”
But he said that, during his “short absences,” he will be “continually on call” by telephone and computer.
The city attorney recalled that, before the end of 2012, she prepared the employment agreement with Christie. They went “back and forth over several matters,” and it was revised.
But in his e-mail, she said he asked her to convey to the board his concern about “some articles” that had been published in one of the daily newspapers in Shelby County. He also sent a letter to the board members.
“He wants to be the manager, the chief administrator of the city,” Lapides said. “And he was concerned because of what was in the newspaper articles, and the fact that it said something about the board wanting to talk about the Charter and maybe make some changes.”
She said Christie asked for “some reassurance” that the board does not intend to substantially change the city manager’s job to the point where he would not be the “operating head of the city,” but like an administrative assistant.
Caruthers said he does not intend to make any changes to the city manager’s job description or his responsibilities. But noting that the previous board attempted to adapt the Collierville City Charter for Millington, he said there are going to be “some mistakes” in it.
Caruthers said he has asked Mayor Terry Jones to consider a Charter Commission, where each alderman would appoint a member. And he noted that, because of Christie’s expertise as a city manager, he would be an “absolute integral part” of the commission to help “tweak” the Charter to make it “as good as it can be.”
Dakin recalled that he was one of the first individuals to argue last year that the process of approving a new Charter was “moving a little too fast.” But noting that the newly elected mayor and aldermen took an oath last week to uphold the new Charter, he said the city manager part is not the problem.
Caruthers said he thinks Christie’s “big concern” was that the city manager will not have the authority to hire and fire the directors of city departments.
“That is a concern,” Lapides acknowledged. “And I think what he saw in the newspaper made him question whether you really want a city manager form of government.”
Noting that he talked with Christie on the phone earlier on Monday, Dakin said if the board presented a “clear vision” that it is ready for him to do his job, he could be in town by Wednesday afternoon.
Dakin said Christie intends to schedule public meetings with the residents to explain the city manager position and the new form of government. The alderman called that an “ideal” thing to do while the board is going through the Charter Commission process.
At Lapides’ recommendation, on a motion offered by Alderman Chris Ford and seconded by Alderman Bethany Huffman, the board adopted a resolution stating that it supports the city manager form of government, as well as the “role and authority” of the city manager under the Charter, and that it has “no present intent” to amend the Charter to “diminish” that.