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Albany Public Works' Roberson elevated to assistant city manager

Long-time employee has 40-year career with city

ALBANY — Despite one Albany city commissioner’s expressed concerns about “subtraction by addition,” interim City Manager Tom Berry said Wednesday morning the elevation of long-time Public Works Director Phil Roberson to an assistant city manager’s position at the City Commission’s business session Tuesday night is an important part of a team concept he wants to bring to the city government.

“This is not going to be assistant city managers as we’ve had here in the past,” Berry said on the day after his first meeting as the city’s city manager. “In fact, they probably won’t be up here (on the fifth floor of the Government Center). They’ll be much more actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the departments under them.

“Our plan is to build a team that will work together to make this city better, a group that will sit around the table and come up with ways to make needed changes. This is just a continuation of the reorganization that had already begun in the city, and it’s going to be pretty dynamic. All of these guys are excited to be a part of this.”

In addition to Roberson, Stephen Collier, who had been named interim assistant city manager for utilities by former City Manager James Taylor on July 3, had the interim tag taken from his title by the commission. With their action Tuesday, the city now has three assistants — Wes Smith is the third — serving under Berry.

“I don’t see how a city Albany’s size needs now four city managers,” Ward II Commissioner Bobby Coleman said after Tuesday’s meeting. “I thought the idea was to reduce our government. This is some kind of subtraction by addition.”

Berry said the trio would address “day-to-day functions” that the city manager cannot attend to.

“There’s no way one person can be everywhere he needs to be,” he said. “Our team will know what’s going on in the departments they’re responsible for.”

Roberson got a mixed blessing from Ward I Commissioner Jon Howard, who praised the long-time Public Works head for his “more than 40 years of service” to the city, but voted against the appointment because of the “void” he said Roberson’s elevation would leave in the department.

Mayor Dorothy Hubbard said Roberson’s promotion “serves as an example to our other employees that if they work hard there are possibilities that they can move to the next level in our organization.”

Also at Tuesday night’s meeting, the commission approved a rezoning request that is a required step for the construction of a new 10,000-square-foot retail store at the corner of Slappey Boulevard and Residence Avenue. Ward III Commissioner B.J. Fletcher said the outlet would be good for the community.

“It brings new jobs to the city, and it gives a new and needed shopping outlet to the people who live in the heart of the city,” Fletcher said.

Commissioners voted to change language in the city charter that clarifies the city manager’s authority to hire and fire employees with the city’s Water, Gas & Light Commission, but the City Commission decided to table changes that would have altered the responsibilities of the WG&L board. City Attorney Nathan Davis said that failure to OK the requested changes on the second reading of the ordinance meant that the process would “start all over.”

Berry and Hubbard, who serves as chair of the WG&L Commission, said the changes were needed to expedite the utility authority’s ability to work with prospective businesses without having to go through the month-long process of City Commission approval. But Coleman and Howard led a move to table the matter.

“Tabling this and then getting some clarity from the city manager and city attorney would make me feel better about what I’m voting on,” Coleman said.

Commissioners also OK’d a concept for the long-in-the-works multimodal transportation site and approved use of special-purpose local-option sales tax funds for video recorder servers, alley paving and emergency sewer repairs.