By MATT KOESTERS
The Clarksville Town Manager Search Committee is back to work, but its members want more direction from the town council now that it’s been reinstated.
On a 4-3 vote, the Clarksville Town Council reversed course from the actions taken at its last meeting, rescinding the vote that put the search committee out of business. But Council President Bob Polston, who voted to disband the committee at the last meeting “because it was getting blown out of proportion,” said he wouldn’t vote to approve the hiring of a town manager that didn’t meet his requirements.
Polston said he didn’t want to see a candidate relocated to the town, and that he didn’t want a town manager to have the power to fire and hire. Polston again expressed concerns with the cost of hiring a town manager, and said that a town manager could negatively impact the morale of town employees.
“His statements are very close to saying, ‘You can go ahead with your meetings, but I’m not going to vote for it,’” said Councilman John Gilkey, who voted to reinstate the search committee. “He’s putting in a stipulation that we don’t want anybody out of town, because they might know more than somebody in-town, and we don’t want them. It has to be someone here locally.
“I would like to think that Mr. Polston is just being very conservative,” Gilkey added, “and he is supportive of the actions of the committee, but I’ve got a gnawing concern that he may not want to hire any of the recommendations that the committee brings to them, and that would be between three and five people.”
Republicans Paul Fetter and Tim Hauber joined the two Democrats in voting to reinstate the committee, while Democrats Bob Popp, Paul Kraft and Don Tetley voted against.
Neither Kraft nor Tetley spoke about the town manager committee before the vote, but Popp responded to a recent editorial published by the News and Tribune that criticized Kraft, Polston, Popp and Tetley in which the four were collectively referred to as the “Gang of Four.” Popp called the label “derogatory,” “insulting” and “hateful.”
“Back when some of us were young and we talked about gangs, we were talking about the “Little Rascals.” Now, you do not use ‘gangs’ in the positive way,” Popp said.
Popp did not address the rest of the content in the editorial.
Popp said he had lost faith in the search committee, and noted that not one female had been appointed to the group.
Despite a light agenda — there were no action items listed — the council gallery had a relatively large audience, and the public comment portion of the meeting took nearly an hour. The majority of public input came from former members of the Clarksville City-Town Recommendation Committee and the Clarksville Town Manager Search Committee.
“By nature, I am an optimist and often too trusting, but what this experience has taught me is that I must now remove the rose-colored glasses I once wore when viewing this council and the members who all received my vote in the past election,” said Jim Kenney, who served on both committees. “Mr. Kraft, Mr. Tetley, Mr. Popp and Mr. Polston, I am extremely disappointed in each of you and how you went about disbanding this committee. I perceive that the manner in which you disbanded this committee last Monday was politically orchestrated, premature, inappropriate, unprofessional and disrespectful to the committees that you established.”
Kenney was joined by fellow former committee members Rick Barr, Don Slone and Tony Singleton, among other citizens who spoke in favor of resuming the search.
“Local government isn’t partisan,” Singleton said. “There’s no Republican or Democratic way to fix a pothole.”
After the vote was taken, Polston told the committee to get back to work. But given Polston’s new requirements, Kenney said the committee needs more direction.
“I really don’t know what our charge is at this point. It’s very unclear. It’s very difficult to search,” Kenney said. “We need to come together and figure out whether a town manager is in the best interest and we can sell the town council on it. That’s what our charge needs to be, it just needs to be clarified before we can do anything.”
When asked if he still had faith in the process to identify a town manager, Fetter, who was the council’s liaison to the committee, said, “Not without the participation of the rest of the council.”
“This is a regional and a national search. We were just starting to find out our resources, of where and how we could best search for the top candidate for the town manager,” Fetter said.