published Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

East Ridge council to winnow list of city manager candidates


by Chris Carroll

EAST RIDGE CITY MANAGER SEARCH

* Application deadline is Friday

* Councilmen will narrow candidates down to the top three

* Public meeting on April 11 at City Hall where council will interview top three candidates.

Source: City of East Ridge

If cities were like major league baseball teams, East Ridge might be the New York Mets — financial losses, chronic infighting and a fired-up fan base watching every move.

The intensity hasn’t stopped 29 people from applying to manage Hamilton County’s second-largest city — which forced its last city manager to resign in August — but many resumes will be trashed right away.

East Ridge’s charter requires its applicants to have three to five years in municipal government and a bachelor’s degree in public administration.

“Isn’t that crazy?” interim City Manager Eddie Phillips said. “A lot of applicants don’t have the exact degree, and some have a master’s in public administration — they don’t qualify.”

Phillips, who already supervises the police and fire departments as the city’s longtime public safety director, said he won’t apply for the job.

In an advertisement, the city requires a manager with “communications skills” — an issue the City Council had with the city’s last full-time manager.

Florida transplant William Whitson had trouble submitting “complete and accurate information equally to all [councilmen] in a timely manner,” according to an evaluation of his job performance last May.

Two councilmen said they didn’t know about a $681,999 budget deficit until they read a legal notice published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Councilmen forced Whitson to resign, sending him away with a $62,000 severance package.

Whitson’s professional history revealed similar conflicts in Cairo, Ga., where he managed from 2006 to 2008 — conflicts that were not researched by then-members of the East Ridge City Council.

“This time we need to check them one end to the other,” Councilman Denny Manning said. “What he’s done wrong, and what he’s done good. We don’t need no more headaches in East Ridge.”

Councilmen Jim Bethune and Darwin Branam said they would favor a local candidate with a direct interest in the city’s well-being.

“We can find out a little more about them,” Branam said. “It should be someone with ties to East Ridge.”

The city’s next manager will walk into an economic situation marred by deficits and deals that didn’t quite wash.

During Whitson’s reign, East Ridge paid $120,000 for a community swimming pool that won’t be ready for the second straight summer. Repairs could cost $800,000, city records show.

And late last year, the city spent $10,000 to negotiate a $340,000 land deal that never happened. Councilmen reversed course on 19 acres of foreclosed property off Ringgold Road near Interstate 75 behind the flea market when Phillips said thieves and vandals damaged much of the property.

But Bethune said he thinks the situation is far from insurmountable, given the right person.

“If the next one is headstrong and his own man, I don’t think he’s got a problem in the world,” he said.

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