Officials in Stockbridge are at odds over the future of a high-ranking position in the city’s government. The sparring among Stockbridge officials that had subsided in recent months, appears to have resurfaced, this time over the role of city administrator.
The Henry Daily Herald, on Monday, received an e-mail from Stockbridge Mayor Lee Stuart, in which he announced the nomination of two individuals as candidates for the administrator’s post. Dr. Bruce S. Sutton, of Provo, Utah, and Ms. Cheryl Harrison-Lee, of Eatonville, Fla., are the names the mayor revealed.
There has been no public discussion about any effort to replace Ray Gibson, the current city administrator. Gibson has been in his job since May 2, 2011, and he has held it on a month-by-month basis since January. The unique arrangement was established by a vote of the city council.
Gibson was first hired as the assistant city manager, and did not possess one of the academic requirements for the job of city administrator, but the council picked him, nonetheless.
When Gibson, 39, was appointed, Mayor Stuart said: “That's what we've needed, to have an actual city administrator. Before, his hands were tied up. But since we've gotten everything now straightened out, I'm glad he's on board ...
"It gives him official power," the mayor continued. "Before, he didn't really have any power. He was the assistant city manager, which was no such position. There's no ordinance. He didn't have any official capacity to operate, so there was some resistance to it.
"He's going to do a great job," said Stuart. "He's already doing it. In a week's time, we're already getting things straight."
This week, Stuart’s view was different.
“He doesn’t have a master’s degree and doesn’t meet the minimum qualifications,” said Stuart. “He never applied for the job. These are people that applied for the job,” he said of his nominees.
Requirements for the position, said Stuart, include a college degree from an accredited college or university, supplemented by at least 10 years of administrative and managerial experience in local government, “or any equivalent combination of education, training, and experience which provides the requisite knowledge, skills, and abilities for this job.”
A master’s degree, training, education or experience in business administration and public administration [is] preferred,” the mayor said.
Stuart said a city ordinance allows him to nominate someone to fill the position within 60 days of a vacancy. Herein lies the political tug-of-war that’s been created. The position of City Administrator has not been vacated. The contractual agreement is on a month-to-month basis through March 31, 2012.
Stockbridge Mayor Pro Tem Mark Alarcon said Stuart did not officially notify the city council of the nominations. He said Stuart did not follow the proper procedure for naming nominees for the city administrator position.
“There are ordinances that we are governed by, that state that when the position becomes vacant, then the mayor is to provide candidates to the council for adoption,” said Alarcon. “But in no way, form, or fashion can you advertise for a position that is not vacant.
“The only way for Mr. Gibson’s employment to cease as city administrator, is for the council to remove him from that position ... The mayor can recommend new candidates, but only after the position is vacant, not in preparation for the vacancy,” said Alarcon.
Alarcon said Stuart “exercised his recommendation,” in May of 2011, when he recommended Gibson for the position. In December, the city council voted to approve a 90-day extension on Gibson’s contract, prior to councilmembers Robin Buschman, Richard Steinberg and Alphonso Thomas taking office in January.
“The mayor complained to me, saying that the old council had trashed the new council’s wishes, by extending Mr. Gibson’s contract in any way,” said Alarcon. “We, being the newly elected council, adopted a month-to-month contract to Ray Gibson. That is what we are operating under at this time.”
Gibson, initially commented on the recommendations made by Stuart, but later withdrew his remarks. Interviews for the two nominees are planned for March 22, according to Councilman Steinberg. He agreed with Alarcon, saying Stuart is not authorized to conduct those interviews.
“The vacancy does not exist, and will not exist on March 22,” said Steinberg. “I took an oath of office that requires me to follow the letter of the law, and that’s what we’re trying to do. The mayor is just trying to circumvent the process.”
Stuart maintained the nominations are not designed as a way to oust Gibson from city government. “There are jobs for him,” said Stuart. “He’d be a great planning chief. He was brought in as an assistant city manager, and there was no such position.”
Sutton –– one of Stuart’s nominees –– initiated a forensic audit into the Stockbridge government in 2011. At that time, he claimed there were financial irregularities in the municipality. Those claims were later deemed to be without merit. Sutton, Stuart said, is a certified fraud examiner and a certified business manager, as well as a former city manager in Utah.
Harrison-Lee is a former assistant city manager of Daytona Beach and Titusville, both in Florida. She is also a former chief of growth management for Orlando, Fla., and has worked as a city administrator in Eatonville, Fla.
Gibson, of Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, came to Georgia in 2002, and worked in the Henry County Planning & Zoning Department, from July 2002, to December of 2009, serving as the Director of Planning & Zoning for four of those years.
Stockbridge is a city of 25,636 residents, and operates with a mayor and five councilmembers.