By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted a resolution this week to terminate the employment of Thomas Christie as the city’s first professional manager.
Board members took the action Monday night during their regular monthly meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Mike Caruthers.
The resolution was approved by a 4-3 vote, with Aldermen Hank Hawkins, Bethany Huffman and Thomas McGhee dissenting and Mayor Terry Jones casting the tie-breaker. Alderman Frankie Dakin was absent.
Millington’s new Charter requires the board to designate a “qualified officer of the city” to assume the duties and authority of the manager.
Jones said he has talked to several people who are willing to be appointed interim city manager. Then, the board can begin the process of advertising the opening for the permanent position.
“You need someone to run the city,” he acknowledged, “because pretty much everything flows through the city manager.”
Jones said the resolution was placed on the agenda because of Christie’s “blatant disregard and disrespect” for the board and the city’s residents.
During his monthly report earlier in the meeting, Christie said he “strongly” believes in democracy and public service – two areas in which he considers the nation and this city “presently lacking.”
While acknowledging that his time to contribute to both is “very limited,” Christie said that is why his bluntness “sometimes overrides” his tact. Because time is something that can “never be recovered,” he said he believes the public does not want the board to waste it.
“If my disappointment over time waste has caused me to unintentionally hurt feelings, I apologize,” he said. “However, I will not apologize for what I have said, because the truth is the truth, regardless of how it is delivered.”
The former city manager of Salem, Ill., Christie was one of four finalists for the Millington position publicly interviewed on Nov. 26, 2012 at City Hall by the newly elected board members. He was hired on Jan. 7.
During discussion before the vote Monday night, Caruthers said one of the reasons that the board chose the city manager form of government was to add some “stability” to Millington. But he contended that, in the past seven months, the city has seen “anything but stability.”
“I think we’ve got the right form of government,” he said. “I think we need to take a look at who’s running it.”
Huffman acknowledged that there have been some “heated tempers” and other things that everyone might wish they had not said. And she noted that Christie apologized for that.
But citing the “turmoil” during the past seven months, she said the last thing Millington needs is more of it. She called it “unfair” to the residents, the city’s employees and the people who expect better from its leaders to “turn the city upside down again.”
Huffman also said she considers it “fiscally irresponsible,” under the employment agreement with Christie, to give him $40,000 in severance pay and to begin a search for his replacement.
“I just think this is a little premature,” she said, “given everything that’s gone on and where we are, and everyone’s ability to want to start a new chapter.”
Hawkins said that, by firing Christie, the board will get the reputation among future applicants for the position that it is “very difficult” to work with. And he noted that the problems it has will still exist, regardless of who is hired.
“We go from one infraction to the guillotine,” he noted. “That’s not good business.”
McGhee recalled that, when the board members were working on the budget, they talked about how expensive it would be to fire somebody and bring someone else in. But now, they were getting rid of the “chief cog” in the new form of government.
“If we really want this city to move forward, we’ve got to be willing to do things differently,” he said. “We’ve got to be willing to listen to other people and receive their input.”
Jones said he has been contacted by several residents who are not happy with the city manager form of government.
“But we know we have this form of government now, and this is what we have to work with,” he acknowledged. “And to operate properly, the mayor and the city manager have to work together.”
Alderman Chris Ford said he has kept all the e-mails that the board members received from Christie. And he considered them “very condescending, derogatory and divisive.”
In response to a question by Huffman, Caruthers said he originally wanted the board to discuss what “level of discipline” would be appropriate for Christie. And it “morphed” into a resolution for termination.
“I’m of the opinion that we have to do something,” he said. “We can’t continue to operate like this at all.”
Agreeing with Caruthers, Alderman Larry Dagen said the “whole transition” to the city manager form of government has not only been difficult, but has been “exacerbated.” In order to work together, he said, the board and the city manager must have “cohesion.”
“I don’t see this relationship getting better,” he noted. “And I just feel like it’s going to be a huge obstacle to try to overcome.”
“But I also see him being very frustrated with a bunch of novices up here, and we can’t have that,” he concluded. “What we need is help. We don’t need to be condescended to.”