A proposal by Mayor Tab Bowling would add a $110,000-per-year chief operating officer to the city's organizational structure, decrease the number of directors reporting to the mayor and leave the mayor's salary at its current level.
Bowling's proposal keeps the mayor's salary at $106,646 and cuts the number of directors who report to the mayor from 15 to seven.
“Our global team of directors helped with building this organizational chart,” Bowling said. “The revised chart is meant to create a more efficient organization. The COO would provide stability should there be a change in the office of the mayor.”
The chart is the mayor’s response to a 5-year-old lawsuit seeking to implement a referendum that would have dropped the mayor to part time, and to Council President Paige Bibbee’s proposal to bring back the city administrator position and reduce the mayor’s salary.
Bowling is running for reelection in 2020.
Asked if the mayor’s salary would increase so he or she remained the city's highest paid employee after the hiring of a COO, Bowling said, “I don’t see that happening.”
Councilman Billy Jackson said the mayor should be the highest paid official in the city because paying a subordinate more than a boss can create problems.
Under Bowling's proposal, the COO, director of development and seven departments would report directly to the mayor. Five departments — Street and Environmental Services, Morgan County Regional Landfill, Information Systems, Decatur Youth Services and Parks and Recreation — would report to the chief operating officer.
“Our city has grown in the number of directors, and it’s more than one person can really oversee,” Bowling said of the need to add a COO.
Kirby said the current organizational chart is “too top-heavy” with high-paid directors so he wouldn't support hiring a chief operating officer. He also wants to eliminate the director of development position when Wally Terry retires April 30. Jackson and Kirby are against hiring a public information officer, even though the position is funded in the new fiscal 2020 budget.
“We need to concentrate on hiring (hourly) workers like backhoe operators,” Kirby said.
Jackson said he doesn’t agree with adding another director and reducing the number of departments answering to the mayor. He said previous mayors oversaw as many as 16 departments. He said the Police Department's public information officer should cover the entire city government.
“The people elected the person to mayor who they thought could handle the supervision of as many as 18 department heads,” Jackson said. “Decatur isn’t so large that a mayor can’t handle overseeing so many departments.”
Jackson said the city has struggled in recent years because of mismanagement. He said he believes the city works well when the council hires directors who are experts in their fields and lets them do their jobs.
“We need to get away from the micromanagement by our City Council president,” Jackson said. “The solution to improving our city is doing a better job of vetting City Council candidates. This is not a popularity contest.”
After each council member received a copy of Bowling’s proposal, Bibbee responded Thursday with a statement that council members wouldn’t comment on it individually.
“I’ve had several council members call me, and this is going to be the council’s official response,” Bibbee said in a voicemail. “The council will not comment on something that has not been officially presented from the mayor’s office to the council at a (council) work session.”
Bibbee said she called City Attorney Herman Marks and told him to tell the mayor that he can put the proposal on the agenda of the next work session, which is scheduled for Oct. 14 at 5 p.m.
Bowling said Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin will present the proposal at a council work session.
Jackson said he wasn’t involved in the discussion that led to Bibbee's statement that members had agreed not to comment, and he questioned whether it was appropriate.
Bibbee said she was in class Thursday with Councilwoman Kristi Hill when council members Chuck Ard and Charles Kirby called her to discuss The Decatur Daily’s request for responses to the mayor’s proposal.
They said they didn’t want to comment, Bibbee told The Daily, "and they agreed with my suggestion that we make a joint statement and we recommend mediation in the city manager (lawsuit).”
Kirby said he agrees the council needs to discuss a reorganization at a work session, but he was willing to talk about the chart.
One reason Bowling and Bibbee are focused on creating a COO or city administrator position is their hope that it will prompt settlement of a lawsuit alleging the council violated state law by refusing to implement a 2010 referendum changing the form of government.
On behalf of client Gary Voketz, attorney Carl Cole in 2014 filed suit. The federal lawsuit demands that the city implement the referendum and the state law it triggered. To do so, the city would have to have a professional city manager, three set districts and two at-large districts. The city manager would be the chief executive officer, and the mayor would be part time.
City officials refused to implement this form of government because they said dropping to three council districts would make it mathematically impossible to have a majority-minority district, and would thus violate the Voting Rights Act. Marks last month said the city had so far spent $244,282.37 on legal fees in the case.
Bibbee said the council members agreed they “would recommend to the litigation team we would sit down with the plaintiffs of the 2010 city manager case and go into mediation to see what and if there are any scenarios we can agree upon. We don’t need to waste time on something (Bowling's proposal) when we’re already spending almost $300,000 in legal fees.”
Jackson said his position has always been that, even though he doesn’t like the city manager form of government, the city has to implement this form of government because it was approved by voters.
Cole called the news of the city’s possible willingness to go into mediation “a welcome event.”
“My wife was pregnant with my son when Voketz circulated the petition (in 2009) for the election, and now he’s in third grade,” Cole said.
Cole said he believes “we’ll have an excellent shot” at resolving the lawsuit if they hold mediation and both sides are flexible.
However, Jackson said he isn’t sure “we have the latitude for mediation" if it included a settlement that did not implement the referendum.
"That’s not what the citizen’s voted on, and we seem to want to get away from the directive given by our citizens,” Jackson said.
Cole said he has some ideas he wants to present to Jackson and other council members that would protect the majority-minority district.
Bowling said he would like the Voketz lawsuit to be resolved, but he doesn’t know how Cole and Voketz will react to this COO proposal.
“We would hope that it would satisfy them,” Bowling said. “What it would do is the COO should provide stability within the city government regardless of the length of time the mayor serves.”
Cole said he hasn’t seen the mayor’s proposal but he’s willing to talk about it in mediation.