Red Bank city manager may be on hot seat

Red Bank city manager may be on hot seat

January 17th, 2011 by Chris Carroll in News

Red Bank City Manager Chris Dorsey has five bosses, and four of them aren't happy.

He may not have his title much longer after seven months of under-the-radar firings, lawsuits and police turnover.

His contract renews automatically in September unless a majority of the Red Bank Board of Commissioners wants to go another way. Interviewed Thursday and Friday, no commissioner endorsed him for another year.

"There are some things he's recently done that look a little strange," Vice Mayor Greg Jones said.

Commissioner Ruth Jeno defended Dorsey, describing him as a "professional."

"At some point we need to have a special called meeting to do an evaluation and see where we are," Jeno said. "But the commission needs to back off and let him do his job."

Others were more explicit about their intentions.

"We need to have some honest dialogue back and forth before we reach a consensus on his term here," Mayor Monty Millard said. "I'm not sure we'll renew."

"I just don't think this dog will hunt anymore," Commissioner John Roberts said. "It's time for a change."

Dorsey is the city's highest-paid employee at $90,000 a year.

"Would I have done anything differently?" Dorsey said. "I don't think so. ... The city manager handles personnel decisions so those decisions are not influenced or taken personally by commissioners. I hope they will respect that."

Suits and claims

Dorsey came to Red Bank in 2005 after 18 years in Memphis city government. Long hailed as a financial wizard, his recent personnel moves haven't garnered the same praise.

"Not every decision made by a city manager is an easy one," he said.

In July, police officer Bradley Hanon privately lobbied Jones and Commissioner Floy Pierce to work for then-chief Larry Sneed's dismissal. Dorsey never said exactly why he fired the chief. Then-Mayor Joe Glasscock and Jeno -- Sneed's friends -- said they didn't know about the firing until the media reported it.

The controversy set off four $1.5 million lawsuits that named Dorsey as a defendant. One was from Hanon, who claimed the city manager endangered police officers by employing Sneed as long as he did.

A few months later, Dorsey commissioned an outside investigation into a Nov. 16 search conducted by Cpl. Rebecca Chauncey, Officer Eric Massengale and Hanon. Investigators said the trio searched several homes without warrants, consent or life-or-death circumstances.

The officers also asked Red Bank Fire Department personnel to break open a door blocked by guns and ammunition, the investigation concluded.

Still, Millard, Jones and Piece objected to Dorsey firing Chauncey and suspending Hanon and Massengale.

Hanging on a vote

Hanon resigned Jan. 10. In a letter to the city, he wrote that Dorsey and Police Chief Tim Christol forced his resignation by abruptly changing his shift.

"He's a good officer, and we're the loser," Pierce said. "My patience is growing thinner and thinner [with Dorsey]. ... Right now I'd hate to say which way I'd vote on his contract."

Jeno claimed that her colleagues were intervening in personnel matters.

"You watch some of these commissioners, and you can see that a couple rookie police officers are pretty much calling the shots lately," Jeno said.

Dorsey's contract states he can be terminated by resigning at the commission's request or by a majority vote in a public meeting to fire him.

If Dorsey is terminated, he's entitled to six months of base salary, car allowance and health insurance.

"Sometimes it gets trying, but I like where I work," he said. "I hope I can stay for a while."

Contact staff writer Chris Carroll at ccarroll@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6610.