By Bill Short
The Millington Board of Mayor and Aldermen adopted a resolution this week authorizing the employment of Mike Chesney as interim city manager.
Board members took the action Monday night during a special called meeting on a motion offered by Alderman Bethany Huffman and seconded by Alderman Thomas McGhee. The motion was passed by six affirmative votes, with Alderman Mike Caruthers absent.
The action came one week after the board voted to terminate the employment of Thomas Christie, who had served for seven months as the city’s first professional manager.
The resolution states that Chesney will perform the duties listed in the City Charter and Municipal Code until a permanent city manager is employed.
He will coordinate all the city’s activities with the mayor and periodically report to him regarding the status of any matters pending in the city. On a periodic basis, he will also keep the aldermen advised and informed regarding any important activities occurring in the city.
Chesney will receive the same salary and benefits that Christie did.
During discussion before the vote, Mayor Terry Jones acknowledged that the city’s new form of government has “some growing pains” that the board is currently attempting to “get through.” Describing the relationship between the city manager and the mayor as “like a marriage,” he said they have to be able to “hold hands and work with each other.”
A resident of Knoxville, Chesney graduated from The University of Tennessee in 1978 and “went straight into” the telecommunications industry, where he has been for the past 38 years. He spent 26 of those in telephone and data systems, beginning as a local manager and working his way up the ladder.
Chesney said he took his “early out” in 2004 as vice president of corporate development, which was primarily business development, structure, process, acquisitions, mergers and some operations. Since then, he has been consulting for several telephone operations, as well as some other businesses on the side that individuals had with some hotels and trucking terminals.
He noted that, during the past three years, he has been “very blessed” to be involved in Millington. The owners of the telephone company hired him to do some restructuring to allow them to decide whether they were going to keep the company, take it to the next level, or if the shareholders wanted to exit the business.
“It took a while to get to that point,” he acknowledged. “And, of course, they decided to exit it. And now, you see the new owner Ritter Communications. I saw them through all that process.”
For the past nine months, Chesney said, he has been involved in some part-time work restructuring and doing some projects that were “sort of left over.” And he took on other clients.
Discussing his “vision and philosophy,” he said there has to be a “great match” between the city manager and the board regarding management structure and leadership style, and the city must have “one mind-set” among the board, management and staff.
“I am extremely hands-on with my staff, my department heads and my board,” he noted. “I do not micro-manage. We set goals and objectives. I expect things to be done on time within budget, and I enjoy seeing people grow and develop.”
Chesney said the mayor and board set the vision for the city regarding where they want it to be in six months, a year, five years or 20 years. And it is the responsibility of the city manager, staff and department directors to make that happen.
Citing the need for “protocol,” he said the board must trust the city’s employees and department directors, set objectives, follow up and then “be there” for them.
“I do not expect to be in my office an awful lot,” he noted. “I expect to be with my department heads. I expect to see the customers and meet as many as I can.”
When Alderman Frankie Dakin asked why he was interested in accepting this position, Chesney reiterated that he was “really blessed” to be part of Millington and the phone company for three years, and he “really enjoyed” working with the people.
“You have the same quality people running your city,” he said. “Your employees are some of the best I’ve seen.”
Declaring that he just wants to do a good job, Chesney said he thinks he can bring a “calmness” while the board is in the process of deciding where to go from here.
“If I can help kind of structure and look at things, get the healing going, get things moving for you and communicate,” he said, “then that’s a great first start.”
Because Millington “just had a change” and is going through a “great experiment,” Chesney advised the board not to “jump right into” advertising on the Web site for a new city manager. He said any potential applicants would wonder why there is such a rapid change and whether they really want to move their family here.
“I think you need a little bit of time to step back and look at what you’re doing well,” he suggested. “Look at what you need to tweak, and make changes slowly and patiently.”
If he can be helpful for a little while, Chesney said he is willing to do it. And he can do it with the “space and time” that he currently has in his life.
Citing his commute from Knoxville, Dakin asked Chesney how much the board members can expect him to be in the office during a typical week. He said they will get “more than 40 hours” from him.
“I really like to have my Sunday nights at home,” he acknowledged. “I’ll get up early Monday morning and be here by noon. I would like to get out of here on Friday around noon and get back by 6 p.m. or so.”
Recalling that he met Chesney as a member of a previous Leadership Millington class when it visited the phone company, McGhee said he was “quite impressed” with his ability as a manager.
He wondered how the board will use him as a “resource” on the things it is not familiar with that impact the city.
Because he has never worked in municipal government, Chesney said there will be times when he will have to find the resource.
“It’s one thing to run a board of directors and a business,” he noted. “It’s another thing to be involved on the state side.”
Although he has a lot of experience working with the Public Service Commission in Nashville and with the Tennessee Sunshine Law, Chesney said he will have to “dig into” such things as applying for grants. But he will involve whoever he needs to in order to learn that process.
“You’re not getting a seasoned city manager,” he concluded. “You’re getting the other side of the fence. But I’m willing to tackle it for a little while and help you guys.”