News and Tribune

October 12, 2013

OUR OPINION: Who’s running this town?

— Some members of the Clarksville Town Council have spent the last year directing a farce for town residents. Now the reviews are in, and they aren’t good.

Just six weeks after the council unanimously approved the recommendations of the Clarksville City-Town Evaluation Committee, which included the creation of a town manager position and the establishment of an exploratory committee to identify who would fill the role, four of its members — Democrats Paul Kraft, Bob Polston, Bob Popp and Don Tetley — decided that the position would be too expensive and put the search to a stop.

At least that’s what they said when they killed the town manager position. But in doing so, Kraft, Polston, Popp and Tetley are asking us to believe that they had no idea what hiring a town manager would cost, even though the idea has been discussed for months.

That’s not all they’re asking us to believe. Remember, the City-Town Evaluation Committee was Polston’s brainchild, hatched in September 2012 after Polston refused to split a tie on a vote that would have changed the town’s electoral structure from voting for all council seats on an at-large basis to making it so that only residents within a district would choose their representative. Popp, Kraft and Tetley opposed the motion, which was supported by Republicans Paul Fetter and Tim Hauber and Democrat John Gilkey. By abstaining, Polston preserved the status quo; instead of talking about districtwide voting or townwide voting, now the conversation was shifted to whether Clarksville would remain a town or become a city.

That’s a distraction that remained in play for more than a year. The committee met on multiple Saturday mornings for the next several months, as Gilkey worked as the liaison to a group of community leaders who volunteered their time to help guide Clarksville into a new era.

After months of laboring over pros and cons, pluses and minuses, the City-Town Evaluation Committee came back with its answer in July. Committee member Jim Kenney gave an elaborate PowerPoint presentation in which he, with his bipartisan committee’s backing, enumerated the benefits of hiring a town manager.

The Gang of Four — as insiders have come to refer to the old guard Democrats plus Polston, a first-time councilman — joined the rest of the council in ratifying the recommendations of the committee Aug. 19 and putting Fetter in charge of forming the search committee.

But it wasn’t long before Popp publicly accused Fetter of stacking the deck by loading the search committee with Republicans, even though the committee Fetter proposed contained five Democrats and four Republicans. That fracture became a fissure Monday, with Polston joining his veteran colleagues in striking the death blow to the town manager plans.

Kraft and Popp argued at the meeting that the town council had done a good enough job of running the town on its own. When Fetter pointed out that the town had been dinged in audits conducted by the State Board of Accounts, Popp argued that no government unit is safe from the SBOA’s meticulous wrath.

Maybe if the SBOA hadn’t detected more than $50,000 in unexplained variances in the Clarksville Street Department’s spending in a 2011 report, we’d agree with Popp and Kraft. Perhaps if the SBOA hadn’t exposed Gary Crowe Sr.’s scheme to defraud the town of nearly $447,000 over a seven-year period by overcharging the town for oil, we’d be more inclined to nod our heads in agreement.

The iceberg theory states that 90 percent of all problems are concealed beneath the surface, with just 10 percent jutting out, exposed. It’s our experience that while flawed, the SBOA does a fine job of detecting that 10 percent. A town manager could delve far deeper.

A town manager, Fetter argues, would be in a position as a full-time administrator to expose fraud, eliminate waste and oversee the management of Clarksville’s more than 160 municipal employees. No part-time council member has the time to do that, he says.

We agree.

But the fact is, the Gang of Four is afraid of ceding power to an independent town manager. The Town Manager Search Committee was set to scour the country for good candidates that could help Clarksville step into the next century; the Gang of Four was more concerned with keeping influence in-house. After applauding the city-town committee, they spat on its work.  

And now it’s a dead issue.

The issue of townwide versus districtwide voting has been kept at bay for a year. But now that the distraction has run its course, it’s time to come full-circle, and now another round of insults to the intelligence of the residents of Clarksville is in order.

Popp is surely readying another new way of saying that voting for more is better than voting for less, even as Tetley and Kraft lick their wounds after losing in their own districts in the last election, kept in office only by the town’s current electoral structure.

And Polston? He has only a bit of time left before he’s forced to decide whether to align with the principles that got him elected, or the veteran politicians scheming to cling to power for power’s sake.

— The News and Tribune editorial board is comprised of Publisher Bill Hanson, Editor Shea Van Hoy, Assistant Editor Chris Morris and Assistant Editor Jason Thomas. Responses can be sent to