New East Ridge city manager outlines goals for future

Chris Dorsey is seen in this file photo when he was city manager of Red Bank.
photo Chris Dorsey is seen in this file photo when he was city manager of Red Bank.
Chris Dorsey stopped by the East Ridge City Hall on a recent Friday to sign his contract as the new city manager. The night before, on March 28, the city council put its final stamp of approval on his hiring, making him the seventh person to hold that position since 2008.

As he prepared to enter the building that day, he was stopped by one of his new constituents asking for directions to East Ridge Middle School.

"I had no idea," he said during a recent interview.

But Dorsey didn't tell that to the questioner. Instead, the 55-year-old pulled out his cellphone and looked it up.

It was Dorsey's first action in his new role, and Mayor Brian Williams was pleased.

On May 6, Dorsey will report for work at his new job. Among his challenges will be the budget, hiring a new police chief and understanding of the border region tax.

Dorsey will inherit a fully developed proposed budget for 2019-2020.

He said that while the budget is basically done for the next cycle, he wants to be involved and get a feel for where it is going.

In his final weeks in Sparta, Tennessee, he will begin seeing draft budget documents and providing input to East Ridge's Assistant City Manager Kenny Custer, who has served as the interim city manager since Nov. 2. (Dorsey and Custer recently spent time together at the annual meeting of the Tennessee City Managers Association.)

The adopted 2018-19 budget was $13,691,953 last August, and Williams said the 2019-20 budget will likely be approved in June.

Then there's the task of hiring a new police chief. Dorsey said he knows the importance of this being his first hire.

The position has been open since March 13 when Custer terminated police Chief J.R. Reed. Reed was suspended for 100 days before being fired over a series of allegations, including lack of leadership, allowing a hostile work environment and mismanagement of investigations. Assistant Police Chief Stan Allen is serving as the interim police chief.

"The first thing I need to do is understand the inner workings of the police department," Dorsey said, adding that he hopes to have a new police chief in place by mid-June. "I need to know what makes it tick. I need to find out what kind of police chief the department needs and what kind of person the council believes we need. That's the start of the process and the search for the right person comes after that."

Dorsey, who hold a master's degree in public administration from the University of Tennessee, said he will also dedicate time to understanding the border region tax fueling much of the growth at Exit 1 in East Ridge while learning the current and future impact on the city's finances.

Under the Border Region Act, the state gives East Ridge 4.125 percent of the 7 percent sales tax revenue that any new businesses inside a 940-acre zone by the Ringgold Road and I-75 interchange generate in a fiscal year. East Ridge has received about $4.4 million in border region tax funds since 2014. East Ridge, Kingsport and Bristol are cities using the tax.

And Dorsey will get to know the city and its people.

East Ridge is the largest of the small cities inside Hamilton County, with a population of 21,118 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census.

In his first 30 days, Dorsey hopes to meet with the five city council members - Mayor Williams, Vice Mayor Esther Helton, Jacky Cagle, Andrea Witt and Mike Chauncey. And he said he will meet with city administrators, employees and "as many citizens as possible."

"I want to have some dialogue with each council member about their vision and the issues on their mind," Dorsey said. "I want to talk to them from a strategic standpoint and find out what direction they want to go.

"It's pretty clear that the atmosphere has changed around East Ridge since the election last year," he said. "It feels very positive, and I want to be part of that."

The position came open when Scott Miller announced his retirement last summer. Others who have served since 2008 are David Mays, Curtis Adams, William Witson, Tim Gobble and Andrew Hyatt. The city also had two interim city managers in that time.

Dorsey said he turned down the East Ridge city manager position in 2013, saying "it just didn't seem like a good fit at the time." Instead, he accepted a position as Signal Mountain's city manager, where he stayed for just eight months before being fired in 2014. He also was Red Bank's city manager for six years before being fired in 2011. In both cases, city leaders said he had failed to meet expectations.

"Politics are a part of being a city manager, and it's something you just accept as being part of the job," Dorsey said of the firings.

As a Hamilton County resident, he is not required to move to East Ridge.

Dorsey grew up in Memphis with five siblings and attended Memphis City Schools before enrolling at the University of Tennessee. He and his wife, Tammy, have three children ages 17, 14 and 12, and the family has lived in Hixson since moving to Chattanooga in 2005.

When he's not working, he enjoys biking with his children at the Tennessee Riverwalk and yearns for the time when he can play golf more than twice a year, he said.

"I spend my times going to soccer and baseball games," he said.

In the meantime, he is tying up loose ends at his current position in Sparta, including finishing the municipality's's budget.

"I didn't want to drop and go," he said. "I want to leave Sparta in good shape and in a professional way.

"I have to say, I want to commend Chris giving Sparta 30 days, not just 14 days and goodbye," Williams said. "He knows getting through the budget is important."

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