- Real Estate
- Paris Flash
The mayor made a motion to involve two members of the council in City Manager John Godwin‘s upcoming contract negotiations with AECOM, the engineering firm selected to design and oversee the city’s $35 million infrastructure replacement.
It was put to a vote, and the council decided by a 4-3 vote to involve Mayor Pro-Tem John Wright and Councilwoman Sue Lancaster to assist Godwin with the contract negotiations.
Council members Matt Frierson and Dr. Richard Grossnickle said that was what the city manager was hired to do — that he was the one with that expertise and that the council ought to leave it for him to do.
The Paris City Charter — the city’s Constitution — was adopted on Nov. 2, 1948.
Section 2 — “Form of Government” — states: “The municipal government provided by this Charter shall be known as the ‘council manager government’ … and by this Charter, all powers of the city shall be vested in an elective council, hereinafter referred to as ‘the council,’ which shall enact local legislation, adopt budgets, determine policies, and employ the city manager, who shall execute the laws and administer the government of the city.”
Regarding the city manager, the Charter states:
Section 39. Qualifications: “The city manager shall be chosen by the council solely on the basis of his executive and administrative qualifications with special references to his actual experience in, or his knowledge of, accepted practice in, or his knowledge of, accepted practice in respect to the duties of his office.”
Section 40. Powers and Duties: “The city manager shall be the chief executive officer and the head of the administrative branch of the city government. He shall be responsible to the council for the proper administration of all affairs of the city.”
Some cities have a strong mayor-council form of government, where the mayor is elected at-large by the people, with an annual salary. Paris’ Charter specifies a strong city manager-council form of government.
In Paris, the mayor is selected each year by the council itself following the city elections in May. The council chooses one of its own for mayor, to serve at no pay, the same as the other council members.
The Charter lays out the mayor’s duties and responsibilities as the presiding officer of the council and as the ceremonial leader of the city:
Section 19: Presiding Officer; mayor: “The mayor shall preside at meetings of the council and shall be recognized as head of the city government for all ceremonial purposes and by the governor for purposes of martial law, but shall have no regular administrative duties.”
Section 23 of the Charter states that the city manager has total authority over of city employees.
Section 23: Council not to interfere in appointments or removals: “Neither the council nor any of its members shall direct the city manager or any of his subordinants in the appointment or removal of any city employee; provided, however, that the appointment of department heads shall be subject to the approval of the council. Except for the purpose of inquiry, the council and its members shall deal with city employees solely through the city manager, and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinants of the city manager, either publically or privately. It shall be grounds for removal from office if, following investigation by and a hearing before the council, a council member is found guilty of multiple, willful violations of this section.“
Following the forced resignation of Kevin Carruth as Paris’ city manager on Jan. 1, 2011, the City of Paris went without a city manager for almost 17 months, operating under the direction of Finance Director Gene Anderson, whom the council appointed interim city manager.
In the spring of 2012, as three finalists for the city manager were being interviewed by council members in executive session, each candidate was asked by a council member (who was near the end of his term) how they would respond to interference from the mayor or a council member.
Godwin, who was town manager of the fast-growing Collin County community of Fairview, was ultimately chosen to be Paris city manager.
Perhaps with the question posed to him during the interview process in mind, Godwin sat down with council members a few weeks later, on June 12, 2012, ”to discuss the city council’s goals and priorities.”
To refresh memories, here’s a transcription of eParisExtra’s digital recording of what Godwin had to say in that meeting on his role vs. the council’s role:
John Godwin: Thank you. I appreciate your time. Just bear with me – I don’t want to insult anybody’s intelligence, anybody’s level of experience, but I kind of wanted to talk about some basic things.
Hopefully, I will get some feedback from you and have two-way communication. It’s important that the manager and the council both agree on what his job is, or else it causes you frustration and it causes me to be unemployed, and I don’t want either of those things to happen. (laughter).
City manager is kind of an odd job for whatever reason. August, hopefully, will mark 26 years for me in local government, and I have still a majority of my family members that don’t know quite what a city manager is.
It is, for whatever reason, kind of an unknown position. People understand that a superintendent in the school district is the CEO of the school district and the school board is there to give policy and direction and those types of things, and adopt a budget.
It works exactly the same way in cities, but for some reason superintendents are well known and city managers are usually anonymous. I tell people I’m a city manager, and they go, “Oh, you’re like the mayor,” and I say, “No, it’s not at all like the mayor.” And they say, “Well, what do you do?” I say, “Well, I run the city,” and they say, “I thought the mayor does that,” and I said, “No, the mayor DOESN’T do that.” (Laughter)
I know you guys know this, but there are some new folks on here, too, and even some of you who have been here a while have been here only a year or two years. A lot of things that you’re used to — because it’s been that way for a whole month or for a whole year or for a whole two years on the council — isn’t necessarily the way it always is in other cities, whether that’s good or bad.
It’s very important that the council set policy, you set guidelines. An example of that is, and hopefully the council knows this and agreed to it at some point in time, but I got a complaint last week or the week before last, about one of the parks not being mowed. It didn’t look good. And people don’t like to go out there because it doesn’t get mowed.
Well, the response from the staff was, “Oh, we only mow it every other week because it’s on the ‘B’ list.” Well, I don’t know, if there’s going to be an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list, that’s something that the council really ought to say “Yeah, there’s gonna be an A list and a B list because we don’t have enough money or enough energy or enough whatever it is to keep all the parks pristine.”
Now, if that’s not your policy, I need to know that. I just meant that as an example of staff should not be doing that. That’s a policy thing and staff is not supposed to make policy.
Now, once you tell us, “We want you to do so and so” with the parks, or whatever it is, then it’s time for you to back off and let us do that.
The city manager is the CEO, the COO of the organization. Every employee works for the city manager. No employees work for the council except for the city manager – and the city attorney, only those two.
And, just to be clear on that, and I don’t want to beat it to death, or insult anybody – the last thing I want to do as a brand new guy is to do any of that, but it’s not a matter of the typical chain of command where you’re up here, and then it’s me, and then it’s everybody else. It’s two separate chains of command. It’s you and me, and then over here is a whole ‘nother chain of command. It’s me and everybody else.
So it’s not that they all work directly for me and indirectly for you. By law, nobody works for you except for me and the city attorney. Whereby I reserve the right if I’ve got a problem department or a concern in a department – and I’ve already done this – to go around with one of my supervisors, with his knowledge hopefully, usually, and talk to subordinates.
You don’t have the right to do that. You don’t have the authority to do that. And that’s a violation of the Charter for you to give instructions or to interfere in the operations of the city. And that’s typical of almost every city that has a home rule charter. That’s nothing unusual or odd.
Sometimes, in my job, people talk about how, “Well, it must be really hard to have seven bosses.” And my response to that is always, “I don’t have seven bosses. I only have one. It’s the city council. I don’t have seven individual bosses.”
If one council member says, “Hey, John, go jump off the roof,” my response is going to be, “Put it on the agenda and get three more votes” — because only one of you can’t tell me something to do. The reason for that is not because I’m hard-headed and don’t want to be cooperative, it’s because if one of you tells me to jump off the roof and I do it, the other six are going to say, “Well, you’re an idiot. You can’t do that.”
Also, it needs to happen in a meeting. It needs to be in a posted meeting, and it needs to be on the agenda: “Instruct the city manager to jump off the roof.” So, there’s a process. It’s a process for a reason and it’s got nothing to do with me or my preferences.
Now, little things come along. For the sake of efficiency, I hate bureaucracy, I hate mindless rules, I hate structure that has no point to it, and as you get to know me hopefully a lot better over the next few years – I’m hoping, that’s certainly my goal – you’ll realize I’m about as anti-bureaucrat as there is. I hate that stuff. I hate that mindless, “do things” for no reasons at all.
But there are reasons for that kind of structure, and it’s important that we both understand that and that we both follow that. But for little things, you know, that’s a different deal. Certainly it’s perfectly OK and it’s even encouraged from time to time that you ask for information from staff. If you want to know, “Gene Anderson, how much money did we spent on pencils last year?” ask him. That’s an information request.
If you want to know how many tickets we wrote last year, ask the police chief and he’ll tell you.
Now, I’ll instruct those staff members, when you give information to the council members, copy me on the email, or just let me know that you talked to them, so I know what’s going on, in case there’s an issue or because they tell you something wrong.
Because ultimately I’m responsible for their behavior, and their performance, and if they don’t perform then I need to know that so I can fix it. If they’re not responsive to your request, I need to know that so I can fix it. So information requests, you’re not forbidden from talking to them, you’re not forbidden from interacting with them. They’re not going to shy away from you. If they do, let me know. They’re not supposed to.
But they’re not supposed to take their instructions from you either, except for Kent and myself. And even Kent and myself, we’re only required – and that’s a poor choice, we’re only allowed to take instructions from you — when you meet as a group, and only when you vote.
So to get me to jump off a roof, you’re going to have to put it on an agenda, post it 72 hours in advance of a meeting, and at least four of you are going to have to vote to make me jump off a roof. And then I may or may not do it, and then you can have an executive session about personnel about whether you want to keep around a guy who’s going to be insubordinate about roof jumping.
I tend to be a hands-on manager, and it’s not because of ego or because I like to be the boss. For 15 years, I didn’t want to be a city manager, and after working for a couple of bosses I couldn’t stand I thought, OK, I’ll be the boss.
My management style is I really try to be in charge. I was hired to be the CEO and I intend to be the CEO. I do need you to give me policy direction. I do need you to tell me, “Hey, you know what? We never decided there should be an ‘A’ park and a ‘B’ park,” and if that’s the case, I need to get that fixed, because somebody decided that on their own. That’s not the staff’s responsibility, so it works both ways.
To give you kind of an idea how I approach city management — especially for the new ones that I didn’t interview with back in February or March — I do try to make a lot of decisions, I do not try to belabor and beat things to death. For example, we had a dead tree in a yard, and people were arguing that we (the city) can’t cut down that dead tree. Well, yes we can, just go ahead and cut it down.
I hate bureaucracy, I hate over-thinking and beating stuff to death. Now, sometimes that means I make mistakes. I told people in my last couple of jobs, if you never make mistakes, you’re not doing your job. I don’t want just sit-on-your-hands bureaucracy. A code lien came up that’s been on your agenda – you go and mow somebody’s yard, you cut down their dead tree, or you fix up the place, and you send them a bill and they don’t pay it.
Well, human nature, you want to get your money back, they owe the city that bill, and it’s not fair that the city had to pay that and not get their money back. Well, sometimes those liens get bigger and bigger and bigger, and it gets in the way of things. And sometimes it does make common sense to say, “You know what if you’ll pay 10 cents on the dollar, we’ll get rid of the lien so you can start mowing this every week instead of us going on forever.”
Historically, I’ve just made those decisions like that on my own. But this has already gone to the council level and I wouldn’t presume to do anything like that now because it’s on your agenda and you need to make some policy decisions on that. But that’s an example of things I’ll often do, and you might not even hear about it, but if it makes the city work better, act better, feel better, make our citizens happy, then I’m just going to do it and I’m going to try to empower employees to do that as well.
Now, I’ve had two different things just today, “Well, we can’t do that. We’re not supposed to do that.” I haven’t gotten mad at anybody yet, but it’s inevitable that I will because I hate that kind of answer. So I’m just telling you all that to let you know what you’re getting into with me. Because sometimes you’ll be getting mad at me, but hopefully most of the time you’ll say, “Yeah, cut that tree down and fix that thing, and do whatever.” The problem with making decisions is sometimes you’ll make the wrong decision, but I’m a real outside the box kind of a guy, and I hate rules and too much structure and so forth and so on.
I’ve got a lot of things I’m looking at, I’ve got a semi-action plan till the end of this fiscal year. That’s what – three and a half months? I’ve got a list of 50 things I want to get done by September 30.
I don’t believe in just sticking with the status quo. I don’t think I was just hired to do the status quo. That may mean some reorganization. That may mean some staff changes. Don’t be surprised at anything I might do because I’m all crazy when it comes to that sort of thing. I’m real excellence-driven. I want Paris to be an excellent city.
By that I mean the organization itself. Now, if we can have an excellent organization, that makes the city as a living place and as a working place a whole lot better, too. My goal every time I work someplace is to make it the best city in Texas.
Not to be insulting, but it’s almost a shame how many people I meet almost make apologies to me about Paris. Like, “Oh, you’re still here,” and “Why would you come to Paris?” I just cringe at that, because people in Paris need to go “This is a great place, a wonderful place to work!” And that’s what I’m going to try to help you do.
Now, obviously I can’t do that by myself. I remember reading something about I was going to be brought in here to be a community leader. With all due respect, that’s not my job. My job is to lead the 325 people that work here. Y’all are the community leaders, and my job is to support you and to help you achieve your goals and visions, which we’re going to get to eventually, I promise. But that’s such a huge mindset that I wanted to throw that out there.
I’m working for Paris and I’m all onboard for Paris. I want it to be a great place, and I think that’s absolutely doable. It’s not an easy thing to do to be a great place, but it’s absolutely doable. And like I say, I’ve already got my 50 things – you can’t see them – but I’ve got my list. Some of them are small things like cutting down a dead tree, and some of them are bigger things like reorganizing departments. Trying to improve communications. Those kinds of things.
I’ll stop at that. My vision is that big vision of making Paris a great place, and helping you achieve your visions, which is my lead-in to, What do y’all want me to do?
By Charles Richards, eParisExtra