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Proposed charter changes stymie Harriman

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By The Staff

By CINDY SIMPSON

csimpson@roanecounty.com

A full-time city manager and term limits for elected officials are the major changes Harriman officials have proposed for the city charter.

Opinions vary, however, on following through with the changes. A city manager, for example, would change Harriman’s form of government.

“People on the street prefer a full-time mayor,” said council member J.D. Sampson.

Sampson has said he hasn’t completely turned his back on the idea, but to hear him speak of it at a recent city council workshop, it would appear he is against it.

Harriman now operates under what is commonly known as a weak-mayor form of government. That means the council serves as a legislative body and exercises control over the city’s budget, while the mayor serves as the ceremonial head of the municipality.

Both Harriman and Rockwood operate under this type of government.

The manager style of government, however, would put a non-elected official in a position similar to that of a company CEO. Kingston and Oliver Springs both have this type of government.

Sampson pointed out that he pressured for the hiring of a city coordinator and liked the idea of having one boss employees and departments were answerable to.

His opposition to changing the government style, Sampson said, is because of what people are telling him.

Other officials, however, say they have heard differently.

“I’ve talked to a lot of citizens for it,” Harriman Mayor Chris Mason said.

He pointed out residents are signing a petition indicating they would like to see a change.

“No matter which way it goes — full-time mayor, full-time manager — this city has to be run full time by someone professional,” Mason said.

Under the proposed changes in a draft given by council member Ken Mynatt, a city manager would be hired by the city council for the city’s day-to-day administration. He would “serve at the pleasure of the council.”

Instead of a mayoral election, a mayor to oversee the regular city council meetings would be selected from the council, with a vice mayor selected to serve in that role in the mayor’s absence.

The changes would also put city council members under term limits. As proposed, council members would serve no more than two consecutive terms.

Sampson has said he’s concerned a city manager would have too much power and be hard to get rid of.

“He may not be removed within 12 months from the date on which he assumed his duties, except for incompetence, malfeasance or neglect of duty,” the changes propose.

Mynatt, however, said a manager could be fired for not satisfying his duties, but a city would be stuck with a mayor for four years unless a recall was done.

Sampson said he also has a problem with the manager hiring the city treasurer and clerk.

“He can’t hire him on his own,” Mynatt said, pointing out that council would approve the manager’s selection.

It wasn’t clear, but Sampson indicated he believes the manager-style government was a step  toward metro government.

Both Mynatt and Mason said they didn’t understand how he came to that conclusion.

Mynatt, in particular, said he opposes metro government.

“I have seen it operate and I know your taxes will go out the roof,” he said.

Mynatt compared it to a tractor trailer and small car traveling toward the same destination. The tractor trailer, he said,  will obviously cost more in travel.

Other issues Sampson has include possibly opening up city elections to include voters who own property in Harriman but don’t live there.

Mynatt seemed flexible on that issue, but he said he wonders if people think they should have some say in government operations if it could affect their property.

He asked that everyone submit any suggested changes and make notes so they can discuss the issue again further in the future.

Other council members are not necessarily for a manager style of government, but have said they are willing to be convinced.

“My initial knee-jerk reaction is to be against it,” council member Chase Tedder admitted.

Council member Kenyon Mee is on the fence.

“I’m not against it totally, and I still am not sold on it,” he said.

Council member Lonnie Wright said he is “wrestling” with the idea of making such a big decision for the residents, instead of putting it before them to decide in a referendum.

Mason expressed concern that misinformation will sway people to be against the manager form of government.