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Leesburg considering hiring city manager

LEESBURG, Ga. — Members of the Leesburg City Council are in the preliminary discussion stage of hiring a city manager, possibly as soon as the third quarter of 2013.

City Council members discussed the possibility Saturday during a retreat to discuss findings of an assessment being conducted by the Georgia Municipal Association.

The study, which has not been formally turned over the Leesburg officials, is expected to recommend that the city alter its operational structure to provide more accountability.

The city of about 2,800 residents currently has no primary administrative officer. City Clerk Casey Moore handles many administrative duties in addition to her regular job as a certified city clerk.

Mayor Jim Quinn also is active in administrative matters, but is not a full-time employee. He operates a weekly newspaper in Leesburg.

Tom Bell, a former city manager in Georgia who acts as a consultant for the GMA study, said the city is suffering from the lack of a full-time administrator.

Bell noted a couple problem areas which highlight the need for a city manager.

“You’ve got infiltration into the sewer system on rainy days, and that is not really on the list to correct because there is nobody really pushing that,” Bell said. “Your wage and salary administration program. There is no impetus to correct that. There is nobody to go to.

‘Y’all are trying to run a business with a kind of disperse authority. It is very difficult and, to some extent, confusing to your employees.”

Bell commended the council members for “looking after the financial end of the city very well” and said the city is operating better than many in Georgia.

Pam Helton, local government marketing manager for GMA, said a city manager likely would make a positive impact on the city’s staff,

“They would know what their boundaries are and what the consequences are,” Helton said.

Debra Long, mayor pro tem, said she can see the potential benefit of hiring a city manager.

“This would give us somebody employees can talk to instead of running to one or two of us,’ she said. “Some employees may think all they have to do is go to so and so and they can get what they want.”

Long said Moore, the city clerk, has “so much put on her that she doesn’t have time to do what we want her to do.”

Joe Whorton, a GMA consultant who moderated the Saturday session for GMA, told City Council members: “You can’t be the chairman of the board and the CEO.

“There are very few cities in Georgia with the scope of services you provide that does not have a city manager.”

Bell said it was his recommendation that the council hire a city manager. He suggested they also continue to appoint the city attorney and the auditor.

All other hiring and firing should be handled by a city manager, Bell said.

Bell said it likely would require a salary of $40,000 to $60,000 to find a competent city manager. “You would have to pay him or her more than the highest-paid employee they supervise,” he said.

Whorton said a good city manager often can find savings that help finance the additional salary. “There are a lot of savings that a good manager may find to help pay for himself,” he said.

Councilman Sidney Johnson asked if the council should be evaluating all city workers.

“If it were me,” Bell said, “I would turn every bit of that over to the city manager. You evaluate the city manager. You hire and fire that person. He evaluates everybody else.

“There’s nothing wrong with sharing those evals. You should know everything that is going on in your organization.

Whorton said employing a city manager could possibly lower the city’s exposure to legal issues.

“I suspect there are some issues that are not being addressed that could embarrass or libel you,” Whorton said. “There are certain standards that you may not be aware of. You need somebody that wakes up in the morning and worries about this kind of thing.”

A formal vote has not been taken, but council members asked Bell to help them with the process of possibly hiring a city manager.

Bell plans to work on a job description and get back to council members.

Helton said the full study was being printed Tuesday and likely will be submitted to council members later this week.

The study is expected to discuss oversight and administration issues, communication, liability exposure, efficiency and a need to codify recent ordinances into one complete book.

Leesburg is the first city to go through this assessment program initiated by GMA.