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Porterdale on brink of losing manager
Tom Fox submits resignation; City Council wants him to stay

PORTERDALE - City Manager Tom Fox submitted a letter of resignation to City Council members at a work session Tuesday night, but some members of the council are working on a plan to keep him on the job.

Fox said Thursday that he tendered his letter of resignation due to the lack of job stability in Porterdale's current political climate.

"Basically, the reason I'm resigning is that I respectfully disagree with some of the decisions that the governing body has made this year, and I can no longer serve in the toxic environment created by the elected officials," Fox said.

Mayor Bobby Hamby said Thursday that the council had not yet accepted Fox's letter of resignation. In fact, Hamby said at least two council members were interested in keeping Fox on the job.

Fox said he would consider staying on only if he could work under contract with the city.

"I've really enjoyed the job," Fox said. "I've worked in Porterdale with different responsibilities and at different levels since 1997. It just reached a point where this division among the council has just basically created this toxic environment."

Under Porterdale's charter the city manager serves at the pleasure of the council. Some city officials have argued that this puts the city manager in a difficult position in a city where the council members often do not agree.

Councilwoman Arline Chapman said in a written statement Thursday that her efforts to bring teamwork and progress to Porterdale have met with "resistance in the form of those who place personal power first and who have a narrow vision for this city."

"Due to the current makeup of the council," Chapman wrote, "it has been almost impossible for the city manager to do his job due to constant interference and the threat of losing his job if he opposes the will of those who hold the majority vote."

At the Nov. 3 council meeting, Chapman had called on the city attorney to check into the possibility of placing the city manager under contract for a period of years rather than working at the pleasure of the council. Chapman said the city manager should be able to work with a sense of security rather than under the pressure of a "totalitarian" government.

Councilman Robert Foxworth agreed Thursday that the city manager should be allowed to work under contract due to the dissonance among council members.

"There's a lot of miscommunication (on the council), and council members get blamed for stuff that the other council members don't agree with," Foxworth said. "It's hard. Husband and wife don't agree on the same thing a lot of (the) time. When you have five council members plus the mayor, even though the mayor doesn't vote, then it's hard to get along."

One recent area in which council members disagreed involved the rehiring of a police officer who had been furloughed. Fox had made a series of budget cuts in September to make up for a budget shortfall this fiscal year, but three council members subsequently voted to reinstate the officer.

Considering the dissension among council members, Foxworth said he wasn't surprised that Fox tendered his resignation. The result should be that council members learn to work better together, he said.

"If the council members don't like what the others are doing, they just need to communicate a little bit better," Foxworth said.

In the meantime, Foxworth said the issue with an employment contract needs to be resolved.

"I really don't want to see Tom leave," Foxworth said. "Tom has brought a lot to the city, and he's a big asset."

Fox's resignation, if it stands, will be the third to hit the city government in the past three weeks.

Kay Piper, a City Council member elected in 2005, resigned Oct. 23 due to health issues and concerns over the direction the council was headed. Piper was particularly concerned about the city's troubled finances. Six days later, Porterdale billing clerk and Clerk of Court Monica Ellis submitted her letter of resignation after more than four years on the job. Her last day is today.

This drain on the town's work force could be a serious blow to the operation of the city, Hamby said.

"We're still struggling from the fact that the city clerk wasn't reappointed (last year)," he said. "Our new city clerk is doing a good job, but she is still just trying to get a handle on all that job entails. That's also got to start over with a court clerk and billing clerk, and we've got to start over with a new city manager unless we can hire one with experience as a city manager."

This is a critical time of year for the city, as well, Hamby said, with the deadline for a new budget looming.

"Really, by Dec. 31, we need to have next year's budget in place and we also need to amend this year's budget," Hamby said. "Both of those need to be done as ordinances, which means we have to have three readings. With Tom gone, I don't know how it's going to get done between now and Dec. 31.

"Also, Tom was our election superintendent, so now we've got to have this special election to fill Ms. Piper's seat, and qualifying has to be set, and all of that falls under Tom."

Fox said he hopes the city will be able to work out an arrangement where he can remain as city manager. If that doesn't happen, his last day will be Nov. 28.

"I hate to leave," Fox said. "But the working environment is going to have to be a little more stable and more secure for me to stay."

In her statement issued Thursday, Chapman said she hopes Porterdale residents will take advantage of the March special election to fill Piper's unexpired term and the November 2009 election to "bring change to this city that will allow Porterdale to reach its true potential. The citizens deserve no less."

Alice Queen can be reached at alice.queen@newtoncitizen.com.