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Council divided over city manager appointment

COVINGTON — During a one-hour closed meeting Tuesday evening, the Covington City Council did not reach a consensus on an appointment to the city manager position.

“At this point the City Council has not appointed anyone the city manager of the city of Covington,” Mayor Ronnie Johnston said after the meeting. Johnston said the topic will next come up for discussion at the council’s Monday meeting, but said he doesn’t know if it will be discussed in open or closed session at this point. The vote is required to take place in open session.

Councilwoman Ocie Franklin acknowledged that there are concerns about potential conflicts of interest among the candidates and some council members.

“We’re just trying to work it out as a council,” she said.

Two of the top three candidates are already city employees — Covington Police Department Capt. Craig Treadwell and Finance Director Leigh Anne Knight — while one, Oel Wingo, is a Florida resident who has been in public administration for more than 25 years.

The council was split 3-3 on the top three finalists, with Councilmen Chris Smith, Keith Dalton and Mike Whatley voting in favor and Councilwomen Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams voting against. Johnston broke the tie in favor of the three finalists. The vote took place Jan. 14 in regular session following an executive, or closed, session.

“I’m just very disappointed that the council didn’t make a decision last night,” Smith said Wednesday.

Smith said the sticking point appears to be a perception of conflict of interest in the business relationship between Dalton and Treadwell and the friendship between Smith’s and Knight’s family.

Dalton and Treadwell own rental properties together through the business Hat Creek Properties LLC. Dalton could not be reached for comment. Other council members declined to comment after the Tuesday meeting or did not return calls Wednesday.

Smith said his daughter is best friends with the Knight’s daughter and the families have taken trips together due to their children’s friendship.

“Our children are best friends,” he said. “I can’t help that. That had nothing to do with the fact that it didn’t get handled last night.”

Smith also said Knight’s daughter has an embroidery business and has done work on T-shirts and hats for his company, Newton Electric. He said the company offered the lowest price at the time, and since then he has had additional work done and used a different company. Smith said he believes it is unfair for he and Knight to face criticism over the friendship of their children.

“All that’s doing is making people in business such as myself not want to get involved in government because they don’t want to go through the scrutiny I’ve had to go through,” he said. “I haven’t done anything unethically, I’ve done everything by the book … I’ve voted my conscience and I’ve always done what I thought was best for Covington, not any individual agenda.”

He also said the delay in choosing a city manager is “not fair to the city employees, it’s not fair to the city as a whole and it’s not fair to us. We’ve gone through the process and done it as fairly as we possibly could do it. We’ve got three good quality candidates, and the consensus was not to move forward at this time.”

The council handled the narrowing down of candidates to select the top three.

Asked if in hindsight it would have been better to handle the search for city manager differently, such as having a subcommittee vet candidates and make recommendations to the council, Smith said “absolutely not,” adding that city manager is the most important appointment the council makes and they are indebted to do that job as elected officials.

Johnston has said in the past that he would like a unanimous, or nearly unanimous, decision by the council on the appointment.

A total of 98 people applied for the position.

Treadwell has been with the CPD for 30 years. He began his career as a deputy sheriff with the Newton County Sheriff’s Office. He joined the CPD in 1982 as a uniform patrol officer. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1985 and to division commander/captain in 1997. Treadwell has served in every division of the CPD. He commanded the East Metro Drug Enforcement Team and the SWAT team, the Criminal Investigations Unit and is currently commander of the Uniform Patrol Division.

Knight began her career in finance in 1992 with Bel-Tronics Ltd. in Covington as a financial analyst. She has worked with Briscoe and Briscoe P.C., Glenn Parker Electrical Contractors, Knight and Tabb Insurance Agency, and was hired by the city of Covington in 2009 as financial director. Knight also serves as assistant city clerk.

Among Knight’s responsibilities are preparing and managing the city budget and approving budgeted and emergency purchases during the year.

Wingo currently serves as interim city manager for the city of Williston, Fla.

Wingo began her career in local government management in 1995 as the assistant city manager for Ocala, Fla. She has also worked as assistant city manager for the city of Palm Coast, Fla., and Holly Hill, Fla.

Although Wingo was fired from her position as city manager in Holly Hill and was the subject of an ethics complaint by the city in 2011, she was exonerated in October.

Comments

roylee 1 year, 9 months ago

Hire a unbiased, professional mediator/negotiator, get back behind closed doors and hammer out a decision. A mediator with no ties to any of the three candidates or the council would likely help to produce quality discussion among the council members. It seems that any of the three on the short list should be well qualified to serve or should have never made as a finalists. In such a mediation process, each council member can have his/her say because often people feel shut out and will not cooperated in a process if they cannot openly put forth their ideas and thoughts about an issue. Don't waste more tax money by re-opening the process and starting from scratch. Go back to work City Council, do your job and get this appointment made now!

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inthemiddle 1 year, 9 months ago

The mayor wants a "near unanimous" decision - translation: he doesn't want the heat from casting a tie breaking vote! They have spent enough on this process. A 3-3 vote will get it done and the mayor needs to do his elected duty. Time for the city to move forward; not start over with the process.

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