It appears this week that the Decatur City Council will hit the reset button on its search for a new director of the city’s Youth Services department, and how that process plays out could have ramifications as the city seeks to fill other crucial positions.
Decatur Youth Services has been without a director since Bruce Jones, who had led the program since its inception 25 years ago, retired in January. DYS Programs Supervisor Lemzel Johnson, a candidate to succeed Jones, has been over the department in the interim.
Johnson was one of two final candidates the City Council considered when a majority of the body offered the position to Richard Collie, coordinator of student inclusion at Athens State University. Collie originally accepted the position but backed out when Athens State offered to increase his salary there, although it remained below the city of Decatur’s offer.
That ignited debate among council members over how the salary negotiations were carried out, with Councilman Billy Jackson insisting Mayor Tab Bowling should have handled the negotiations himself instead of Human Resources Director Richelle Sandlin.
Ultimately, the council decided to ask Bowling, accompanied by Sandlin and the Personnel Board chairman, to try again, but Collie turned down the city’s two subsequent offers. Now the City Council may start over.
Where does that leave Johnson, the other finalist?
Councilwoman Kristi Hill proposed promoting Johnson to director earlier this month before the other council members decided instead to try again to hire Collie.
Councilman Chuck Ard said last week he wants the vote on Hill’s resolution “to show Johnson where he stands.” But Council President Paige Bibbee said holding a vote would be “insensitive to Mr. Johnson” considering the way the process has played out.
If a vote would be “insensitive” to Johnson, it certainly sounds like it would not go his way, despite his being a finalist.
During Johnson’s interview, Jackson was highly critical of his performance as programs supervisor. Jackson said he was concerned Johnson “didn’t inject himself” into the community more as Jones stepped back from his duties.
All this comes as the city seeks to fill other top posts.
Last week, the City Council voted to reopen its search for a new fire chief. Although there were 11 qualified semifinalists for the position — including two internal candidates — Sandlin said the delay resulting from the coronavirus lockdown necessitates reopening the process for additional applicants.
Meanwhile, the council is preparing to choose from among seven top-level candidates to replace Wally Terry, who has departed as the city’s director of development.
What must all this look like to outside observers, including those who have applied or are thinking of applying for the city of Decatur’s top positions? There’s infighting among council members, disputes over who should be handling negotiation, job candidates left hanging, all adding up to a pattern of collective indecison. And then there’s Collie, who has passed on three pay raises to keep his current job rather than work for the city of Decatur.
No one should have to be sold on Decatur. The city has plenty to offer job candidates and their families. But what it doesn’t have is a City Council and administration that can agree on what they want from their department heads, or even how it should go about hiring them.
If city leaders can’t work together, they will find Collie is not the only department-head job candidate who gets away.