East Ridge leadership up in the air

East Ridge leadership up in the air

July 25th, 2013 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Eddie Phillips

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When the East Ridge City Council meets tonight, members will discuss how to replace one man. It might take at least three.

Eddie Phillips, 62, announced Monday that he will retire Aug. 2. Right now, he is the interim city manager and the public safety director. In the latter role, he also serves as the city's police chief, fire chief and administrator of codes enforcement and animal control.

Once retired, Phillips said he intends to work as an insurance agent with his son. He held a similar job for 20 years before joining the city full time in 1993.

With his departure, the council will debate whether to hire a new public safety director or eliminate the job. City officials created the position about 12 years ago to serve as the middleman between the city manager and certain city employees.

Here's how the chain of command is supposed to work right now: Leaders of the animal control, codes enforcement, fire and police departments report to the public safety director, who reports to the city manager.

The idea is to make the city manager's job easier by having fewer people reporting directly to that office.

But Phillips expects the council to eliminate the position, potentially saving the city money but also complicating the manager's job.

"My gut feeling is that they'll change back to a fire chief and a police chief," he said. "I know some councilmen have expressed the desire to have a separate fire chief and police chief."

Vice Mayor Jim Bethune and Councilman Marc Gravitt said Tuesday they don't think the city needs a public safety director. Mayor Brent Lambert, on the other hand, does not want to see a change.

Adding to the complication is East Ridge's city manager vacancy. The position has been open since Tim Gobble resigned Feb. 7 and Phillips stepped in as interim.

The council continues to search for a replacement -- they hope to interview three candidates soon.

In two weeks, Director of City Services Frieda Wheeler will assume the interim position. Phillips appointed her as his backup two months ago, and on May 23 the council unanimously approved her.

Wheeler already oversees six departments. As interim, she will meet regularly with 10 department heads.

This includes Deputy Police Chief Steve Mize and Deputy Fire Chief Mike Flynn. At least temporarily, Phillips said, both men will be in charge of their departments.

The move could be permanent, though Phillips likes the present setup.

"It's been a good system," Phillips said of combining fire and police departments under a public safety director. "It's proven successful. ... It will be up to [the council] to decide if they want to continue."

Contact Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.