Massey: Lee should focus on the future

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

FRANKFORT, KY. -- In the overall scheme of things, there are a limited number of management-level government positions available to the individuals who aspire to hold those jobs.

That opens the possibility to "hired guns" -- people who can put together an effective resume and interview well -- using those positions as stepping stones to ever more lucrative openings up the food chain.

New Lee County Administrator Tony Massey insists he's not coming to the county to claim another notch on his belt. In fact, he says the thing that drew him to the position is the quality of life he's encountered since putting his name in the hat for the position that officially becomes his Monday.

"Take a look at my resume; I'm not a job-hopper," Massey said in his first extensive interview since accepting the Lee County position. "Lee County is one of those places where you can raise your family, and that's what I was looking for. When I take a job somewhere, I make a commitment to the community.

"I plan on coming down there and sinking some roots."

The Lee County Commission selected Massey over finalists Al Crace, who was at the time serving as the county's interim administrator, and Michael Thompson after extensively interviewing the trio. The commission announced at its Jan. 25 meeting Massey was the choice to move into the seat vacated by Alan Ours five months ago.

"I think we made a good choice," Commissioner Bill Williams said Tuesday. "We were in a fortunate position that we had three really strong candidates. Any one of them would have done a good job, but I think Tony did just a little bit better job during the interview process."

Massey served the past six years as city manager of Kentucky's capital city, whose population of 28,000 almost doubles during the daytime as government employees report for duty. He held the same position for eight years in Bristol, Tenn., and for four years in

Savannah, Tenn. He was assistant city manager/recorder in 45,000-resident Kingsport, Tenn., for three years and held economic development positions in Tullahoma and Columbia, Tenn.

Massey said when he accepted the Lee County position, he'd reached an agreement with the Frankfort City Commission to step down at the end of 2010, leading some to speculate a charge brought against him by the city of Frankfort's Board of Ethics figured into his decision. Massey denied the accusation.

"That had absolutely nothing to do with my decision," he said. "What I tried to do, in a nutshell, is solve a dispute between an elected official and a city employee over a construction project, and it became an issue because of dirty politics.

"I did not violate any ethics policy. The Frankfort City Commission recognized the charge for what it was and stood by me. They took no disciplinary action against me, and the findings by the Ethics Board was not even included in my personnel file."

Indeed, a letter from Frankfort Mayor Gippy Graham exonerating Massey from any wrongdoing was included in the package he sent to the Lee County Commission when he was interviewing for the administrator position.

"It is no secret that the ethics charges filed against you were by disgruntled employees in the Planning and Building Codes Department and were likely politically motivated," Graham wrote. "...

It's regrettable that you have been pulled into the political fray as a result of your involvement (in) trying to resolve this conflict.

"You have served Frankfort as city manager for more than six years, and I have personally appreciated your professional approach to leadership during my time as mayor. The Ethics Board's determination should have no bearing on your ability to continue to lead the city of Frankfort into the future."

Lee County Commission Vice Chairman Rick Muggridge said the board was fully aware of the ethics charge made against Massey and discussed it extensively during his interview.

"Absolutely, that's something we discussed at length," Muggridge said Tuesday. "Tony brought up the situation in his cover letter to the board, and he did not shy away from discussing it with us in detail. When we finished talking, the board felt comfortable with the situation.

"Tony Massey is by no means a perfect person, and neither am I. Any person involved in politics is likely to have scars or open wounds, some of which are the results of mistakes made and some of which were caused by enemies. At the end of the day, though, this board thought -- and still thinks -- Tony Massey is a good person and will make a good administrator."

A package sent anonymously to The Herald and to members of the Lee Commission included an online transcript of the ethics finding against Massey and Frankfort City Commissioner Kathy Carter.

Charges were filed by city employees Angie Willoughby and Robert Engle, who said Massey illegally tried to push through a certificate of occupancy on property being renovated by Carter.

Muggridge said he saw nothing in the package that changed his view about Massey.

"It's sad that we've come to a point where there's all this anonymous rock throwing," Muggridge said. "It's a shame that most political discussion now comes through the Squawkbox and anonymous letters.

"I welcome the opportunity to discuss local politics with anyone, but I prefer to do so with someone who's man enough not to hide his convictions. If you're going to throw those rocks, be man enough to do so openly."

The package sent to the commission and to The Herald included a brief statement entitled "Why?"

"Why were we not told about this when we were told about the candidates a few days ago?" the message read. "Why do we have to look this up as citizens?"

Massey said he's not been contacted by any local media representative other than The Herald, but he said he's more than willing to discuss any aspects of his career.

"But, frankly, I'm more concerned with moving Lee County forward," he said. "There are challenges there, but there are also opportunities. If we handle things the right way and do the right things, 10 or 15 years down the road people will be complimenting our work rather than criticizing it.

"I believe we have to plan for the future because that's where we'll be tomorrow. Managing is managing, and there are ABCs of local government that are pretty much the same everywhere. But like people, communities tend to develop their own unique personalities.

I believe the better I get to know the personality of Lee County, the better I'll be able to do this job."