Weston's city administrator search ends, performance audit approved

A special consultant was essentially fired, then rehired at a special meeting of the Weston board of aldermen held last week.

On Monday, Nov. 19, the board met to discuss the 2019 city budget, hear an update on the search for a city administrator and to determine the fate of the Sebus Brothers True Value Hardware store on Main Street.

The hardware store was quickly cleared to reopen for business, as much of a checklist of safety improvements required by an outside engineer and public works director Mike Large had been completed. The store was closed last spring due to safety concerns.

What took longer was the report by Michael Soler of Executive Workforce Consultants. Soler was hired in September at a cost of $4,500 to craft a job description, advertise for and recruit candidates for a full-time city administrator position.

Aldermen immediately questioned why Soler was advertising the position on job seeking and social networking sites. Alderman James Lowe said he didn’t recall the board authorizing this move, with alderman Joyce Priddy saying she understood aldermen would be contacted individually for input.

Soler said he had received the go-ahead from a committee appointed by mayor Cliff Harvey to advertise the position after several rewrites of a potential job description. After meetings with department heads, the language in the description was softened and the position was shifted to less management work and more grant-writing and advising.

Priddy said she wants the city to conduct public input meetings and round tables with local business leaders on what they want from a city administrator before any such position is advertised.

Department heads, including chief of police Terry Blanton, said they were so far displeased with the process.

“I’m not against it per se, but I’m not comfortable with the job description I was given,” Blanton said, noting that the description took hiring, firing and budgeting decisions out of his hands. “I’ve been doing this job for 36 years and so I must have been doing something right.”

City clerk Kim Kirby pointed out that most of the city leaders were in their 60s and a city administrator was needed to help Weston shape its future as its current leaders retired.

Aldermen called for a vote to end Soler’s work and terminate the job search. The vote was unanimous.

“I do think there is a future where this is a good idea, but not now,” Lowe said. “It was kind of slid in under the door at a special meeting.”

Alderman Mark Seymour agreed, stating the board had been “force-fed” this proposition.

Harvey spoke out just before the vote.

“We definitely need to have some form of continuity in city government,” Harvey said. “My term is two years — everybody’s term is two years. We need to have somebody in here to keep things moving along.”

Alderman Rebecca Rooney proposed the city conduct a performance audit of existing employees to see how the city can work with its current staff and whether a city administrator is needed.

“You just wasted money on a consultant and you want to spend more now?” Kirby said, also expressing concern that her name kept coming up in the conversation. Currently, Kirby handles many of the duties that would be handled by a city administrator in a larger city.

Soler interjected, stating he could perform the audit and had presented the aldermen with paperwork outlining such a process prior to the meeting. The remainder of his fee could be applied to this audit instead of the job search services.

While Lowe suggested that Soler’s services could be considered a “poisoned well,” Rooney said she thought he should move ahead with the audit.

“I think it’s unfair to paint (Soler) as a villain here,” said city attorney Jeremy Webb. “He was only doing what he was told to do.”

The board agreed, voting unanimously to rehire Soler to conduct the performance audit, which is expected to take about a month to six weeks.

Harvey will also form another committee to schedule public meetings to see how the citizens would like to move forward.