CLARKSVILLE — A recently-passed Clarksville ordinance does away with the longstanding practice of annual appointments of department heads, moving instead to a system designed to employ based on experience and education.
At its most recent meeting, the Clarksville Town Council voted unanimously on both readings to implement the new law, which states that the town manager will be in charge of the hiring, termination and replacement process for heads and assistants of the public works, utilities, planning, redevelopment and human resources departments, and police and fire chief and assistants.
The change, according to the ordinance, is "in an effort to remove politics from the appointment process and to promote professionalism and stability of the various town departments..." All current department heads will be retained in their positions.
John Gilkey, a Democrat who has served multiple terms on the council and is seeking re-election, said the new system will help preserve job security for the current staff, which he said the town is lucky to have.
"I personally think we have one of the most qualified teams of department heads in the entire region," he said. "We have people who were offered six-figure salaries to go outside of town and have opted to stay with the town, so they are obviously thought of very highly.
"[If] you're basically appointed for a year and you don't know if you're going to be there next year, it's kind of hard to keep really qualified people. I think what we have done allows them to feel much more secure in remaining with the town."
Current Town Manager Kevin Baity, hired in 2016, said he and council members have been discussing it for the past several months. After speaking with other town managers in the state who do the hiring themselves, he took that information back to the board.
The council traditionally has appointed department heads at the first meeting of the new year. While the current council has reappointed the same employees, unless there was a vacancy due to retirement, for instance, that's not a guarantee, and new councils often make new appointments when taking their seats at the start of the year. This year, the council seats are part of November's General Election.
"If you were a department head or assistant, depending on what the council chose to do during reorganization, you may or may not have a job as of that day," Baity said. "They could be terminated that day without any reasoning or justification, they just weren't reappointed to their position."
The current council retained some of the department heads at the onset of this term, but replaced three — one of whom had asked not to be reappointed.
In January 2016, the council named current Clarksville Fire Chief Brandon Skaggs to replace Tom Upton, who had been chief since 2010. Dennis Johnson was named deputy chief to replace James Hendrick, who had asked not to be reappointed, and Rick Barr replaced Ilpo Majuri as building commissioner. Majuri had been with the town since 2009.
However, Indiana code gives certain protections to police and fire staff that differ from what other department heads are afforded. If a chief or assistant chief is not reappointed, they would still be able to remain within the department and return to the rank they had prior to being in a leadership role. For areas such as public works, a department head may be out of a job entirely if not reappointed, if no opening exists in the department.
Baity said the new ordinance takes away the possibility for politics to overshadow qualifications in department leaders.
"It kind of gives the department heads a little more stability," he said. "They know their job is there and they don't have to be worried about what they say or do, making somebody upset [so] that they may choose somebody else to put in their position come reorganization time."
Councilman A.D. Stonecipher, Republican in his first term and seeking re-election in November, said he's really proud of the ordinance getting passed; he's been advocating for it since he campaigned in 2015.
"I hope it would also cause future vacancies to be filled in a way that's transparent, that is competitive and merit-based," he said. "The taxpayers deserve the best candidate for the job. I believe we currently have that now and I believe this will ensure that we have that in the future."
He said current and future staff should have the education and experience to do their job correctly. Right now, for instance, he said there are issues that could have been prevented with some properties in the north end of town if the building commissioner had done proper inspections when they were built 20 to 30 years ago.
"I'm hopeful this move is going to prevent those kind of poor building standards that always cost people a lot more money later," he said. "We're dealing with issues where we have homes that were built almost on top of sewer mains, where we have brick privacy walls 10 feel tall that are hollow.
"Issues like that have arisen where we have had department heads appointed in times gone by that were either not qualified or experienced or simply did not have enough oversight to ensure they were doing their job."
The entire process change applies only to the process of hiring; Baity will continue to oversee department heads and assistants. He said he currently meets with them every week or two, and all department heads meet once a week. The new ordinance states that the town manager must meet with the council in executive session before any changes in department heads or assistants are made.