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Friday, September 05, 2008

Milton Goes Back To city Manager Drawing Board

by Hatcher Hurd / September 02, 2008 / Appen Newspapers

Well another episode has closed on "As Milton Turns." Tune in next week (or sometime next spring) to see who will join the cast as Mr. City Manager.Once again Milton has shown it has a great talent for making canny hires of its city managers, but it doesn't seem to know how to hang on to them. When Billy Beckett turned in his resignation, it wasn't about money, it wasn't about a chance at the dream job coming open.The man with 30 years on the job said he just wasn't going end his career going from one harangue to the next.The City Council just nagged him to death until he thought he could no longer be effective in his job.

It has only been four months, but he could see the handwriting on the wall. Only in this case it was more like the e-mail on the wall.Since he came on board the City Council, especially Julie Zahner Bailey, Alan Tart and Tina D'Aversa, kept him either busy running down endless requests for information or insisting on political correctness rather than his best professional advice.I first knew Billy Beckett 18 years ago when he was the Fayette County manager and I was editor of the local newspaper there. I always enjoyed our frank, straightforward discussions, and in interviews he was always candid without betraying a trust. He just told it the way he saw it, and you can't ask for better than that.

What he is not is a yes man. He sees his job as that of the professional who is runs the departments, carries out council policy and gives council members the benefit of more than 30 years of experience and education in his field.It is a common mistake on governing bodies that the elected officials somehow confuse the idea of weighing the public interest and the information at hand and then making the hard policy decisions with actually running the day-to-day operations.They should stay out of the office. That is what the manager is for. Worse is when a council member tries to influence or bully staff to make what the council member considers "the right decision." For my part, such people ought to be impeached and turned out of office.Right behind that, however, is to squander good people in whom the city has made an investment. Especially the person with the thankless task of making a city work.

Top-notch professionals are hard to come by. Most cities are not so frivolous with their best personnel. Rather they treat them as their prime resources and husband them jealously.After a long talk about the situation at Milton with Mr. Beckett, I had to say I was not surprised. In all fairness, this is still a young City Council, and it has made its share of mistakes and likely will again. Such is the human condition.But what is alarming is the seeming inability to learn from mistakes, but rather repeat them.

Two city managers are gone in less than two years of existence? What kind of top-drawer professional can the city expect now to jump in and take the reins of the city?Especially when the council has a reputation for being fractious and prone to mind-numbing meetings to cover the same ground (usually sewer) again and again? A council scarcely is moved by the real issues: Transportation, sidewalks, city policy, parkland acquisition, recreation and intersection improvements. You have a small staff, almost none of whom actually work for the city.Council members treat the manager as if he or she works for each of them personally, tying up valuable time running down information and requests to the point of distraction.If council members are not able to do their own research on issues or if their time is too valuable for such mundane work, then the city should give them aides to do it.

It certainly should not be the manager's job.In the end, this as much as anything was the last straw for Mr. Beckett. He told me he just was not able to apply his talents in the way he had always done. He found the way certain council members only contacted him by e-mail exasperating and also insulting.Here I have to agree totally. E-mail is the lifeblood of desktop publishing and the way I make my living. But it does not replace face-to-face conversations with the give and take of social discourse. E-mails are in black and white and therefore have no tone or softening.Since no one seems to remember how to write courteously anymore, especially at the computer, these messages can easily sound rude and pompous. Neither do e-mails invite polite discourse on the subject. And if the e-mails we have seen from council so far are any indication, they sound didactic, whiny and shrill as well.In fact, the only time Mr. Beckett got peckish about the situation was to say if he was going to have a fight, he preferred it to be face to face rather than through electronic sniping.Mr. Beckett said he no longer felt he could be effective, and he says he takes responsibility for "not being a good fit," as he put it. Given the growing pains that council is still going through, I would agree.And there is the rub.

The council can put the blame on Mr. Beckett and continue on as before, and in six or eight months perhaps be in the same position.Or it can heed his parting piece of advice. Come to a consensus on the role of the city manager. Understand the position is not to serve seven individual bosses but one collective boss.He suggested there be some conduit for the council to take requests to the manager, either through the mayor or in some other method agreeable to council. That certainly makes sense.The worst thing the council could do is not recognize this episode as a wake-up call to re-examine its role and that of the manager.

20 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent article !

Anonymous said...

Hurd hit the nail on the head here!

Anonymous said...

Mountains are being made out of molehills.
It does not matter that Beckett is leaving. You people act like it's the end of the world. Guess what!? It will all be here tomorrow. Let him go and do what he enjoys. It is his choice to leave. Pat on the back and gooday to you Beckett.

Anonymous said...

The object of this acticle was to inform citizens that the three on council must be removed or the chaos in Milton will only continue.

Anonymous said...

Molehill is an idiot

Anonymous said...

Hatcher is old and has seen a lot in his many years. Some would be smart to listen to those with experience?

Anonymous said...

Why waste all of the press and time on this when people resign from jobs everyday? People with many years of experience retire everyday people get fed up with their jobs and quit everyday etc etc....
Someone else will apply.

Anonymous said...

What short memories people have.

Last year in the blogging on Access Milton and all around Milton Lusk, Thurman, O' Brien and Mohrig had to go - they had forced out Aaron Bovos, colluded with Jan Jones to change the charter against the Mayor, brought ethics charges against the him not to mention a host of other very low and despicable activities (sneaking around City Hall Offices stealing documents) they were all involved in.

Back then it was 4 against 3 (Joe, Tina, Julie) and the situation so unbearable that our Mayor rallied the forces to change the council at election time. He even wrote a letter to citizens that was blazened across newspapers imploring them to vote in favor of a changed council. And change it did. We had two new Council members in Alan and Burt and a third re-elected in Julie all promising to maintain the rural nature of our city and keep Sewer out.

This year it's once again 4 against 3 - the only difference is that the Mayor has changed sides - suddenly Lusk, Thurman and Beckett are Joe's new best friends, and Burt has obviously forgotten his election commitments, as the 4 of them calculatedly set about the task of extending sewer into Milton. Why... because Lynne Reiley says it should be so with her 'new' maps. And of course Lynne is very trustworthy - she's never betrayed any citizen!!! Yeah right!

And so much for an impartial City Manager on the Sewer issue. Don't for a minute think that all residents respected Billy - on the contrary he was viewed as arrogant and condescending by residents, many of whom work so hard, and give up so much of their time on our City Committees.

Isn't it ironic that the 3 council member's (for all their faults) that are trying to do what they promised as regards protecting against sewer (as voted for by over 80% of the residents) are now the ones being treated with such disrespect.

There is such unbelievable hypocrisy at play here both on the Council and on these blogs.

It's DISGUSTING!

Anonymous said...

Hold your horses there on those numbers...

It was 80% of the residents who voted, not 80% of the residents...

And only 20-25% voted, so at best, you're talking about 20% of the residents for certain.

Anonymous said...

You are correct – allow me to clarify my mistake.

In my "isn't it ironic.." comment above I was not alluding to the election itself but was in fact referring (I acknowledge not very clearly and concisely) to the community survey where 80% (in fact 86%) of the citizens that filled out the document supported the NO EXTENSION OF SEWER Vision Statement for the city i.e. "Milton is a distinctive community embracing small-town life and heritage while preserving and enhancing our rural character."

3 member's of our Council, our Mayor and ex City Manager seem to have conveniently forgotten that!

Anonymous said...

And what is the number and percentage of residents bothered to fill out the survey?

Anonymous said...

Julie should have herself video taped to see how she speaks her words at lightning speed with only Julie understanding what she is trying to say. She talks in circles that make people dizzy. She doesn't care about what the people want. She just likes to hear herself talk. How many times I have heard in the audience these same type of comments. Maybe Milton could go forward if Julie could just let go of the reins for a little while but she is afraid to because of her ego and need for attention. When given a time limit to talk on a subject she in most instances goes over her allotted time. You just want to scream shut-up. I wish she could sit in the audience at City Hall meetings and hear the comments in the crowd. She would be so surprised.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet she would hear the same from the other side too!

Anonymous said...

Can someone really be so unaware and out of touch. There are so many issues other than sewer. I guess Julie enjoys being stuck in the sewer.

Anonymous said...

What will she do once the sewer thing is settled?

Anonymous said...

Julie your style would be better suited as a lobbyist. As a councilwoman you are so busy fighting over and over, like no one knows better than you. There is a word you may have forgotten. That word is efficiency. To move a City forward you must learn to make your views heard without beating the dead horse. Some of the most effective leaders are good listeners. Julie is so busy thinking about what she is going to say next that I don't know how she can comprehend what others are saying. It is funny when they are in agreement with her and she doesn't recognize it. She is disruptive to say the least. Maybe Julie can take the time to go to John Creek's meetings and see why they are doing better than us at becoming a real City.

Anonymous said...

The voters were clear about their choices in the last 2 elections. They were also clear that they do not like all the negativity. Or were you too busy thinking of what you would post next to actually listen? No one knows better than you about beating a dead horse as you continue the barrage of negative comments. BURY that horse already.

Anonymous said...

Bill, Miss Daisy here, get off the computor and come pick me up because I have an appointment at the groomer.

Anonymous said...

"Voters were clear"

Definitely a JZB cult member. Only an idiot would still admit it after all the Milton political news.

Some people are truly incapable of learning important lessons in life.

At least the blog is good for a laugh.

Anonymous said...

Voters were duped. Hopefully the have learned their lesson.

Hopefully the mayor wont support this wako next time and she will realize where her real support was, not from an inexperienced gay Democrat?