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City of Madison: City Manager contract not renewed

Nancy Taylor: Greene Publishing, Inc.

Madison’s City Commissioners met on Wednesday, Oct. 25, in a special session to discuss the employee evaluation and future of City Manager, Tim Bennett’s employment with the City.

All of the commissioners were present, and the meeting was open to the public.

Prior to the meeting, every commissioner was given an employee evaluation form to complete concerning their assessment of Bennett’s performance during the past 12-month period. The instrument used for this evaluation is taken from ICMA, the leading association of local government.

Upon viewing and assessing all of the evaluations, Bennett was given a rating of “satisfactory.”

During the time allotted for public comment, several members of the community spoke – some on behalf of Bennett and some opposed.

Danny Plain, local business owner, was the first citizen to step to the podium during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I believe the public should be appalled,” said Plain. He stated that he feels Bennett is very difficult to deal with; he, a local business owner, felt he was never given the opportunity to bid on a local job.

Next to the podium was Dan L. Davis, another business owner in Madison. He asked, “Where’s the money?” Davis feels there’s not enough evidence of work being done in the downtown area to justify the money that is being spent. He asked the commissioners, “What’s best for Madison County?”

Sadie Gilley stated that she had returned to Madison in 2005. “I’m impressed with what I’ve seen in him (Bennett); yet in Madison, we still have problems. I do believe Mr. Bennett is trying to make a difference.” Gilley then turned to the commissioners and asked, “What have you done? We have no sidewalks. Downtown used to be a showcase. Now, it is dying a slow death.”

Billy Burnette had harsh words when he spoke before the commission. “… Your City Manager’s got an attitude… I don’t dislike the man; he’s just the wrong man for the job.”

Chris Norris, owner of Norris Café, spoke on Bennett’s behalf by stating, “Downtown is the busiest I’ve seen it in a long time.”

Sharon James Postell simply said, “Mr. Bennett is trying to make a difference. Our commissioners have been responsive. I appreciate the responsiveness of Mr. Bennett.”

Ultimately, it came down to the evaluation and a vote from the City Commissioners. The evaluation scores covered a wide range, but after all of the scores were calculated, Bennett received a satisfactory rating on his job performance.

Once the public comments section of the meeting ended, the City Commissioners had a chance to speak.

Commissioner Ina Thompson said, “Bennett told me from the start he was opposed to it (my business situation). He has accused me of taking things too personal.  He is hard to read, he’s unpredictable, and he’s hard to work with.”

“… He’s done well on some things; there are good issues and bad issues,” she concluded.

Commissioner Jim Stanley stated, “I’ve had a great relationship with Bennet, but when Danny Plain came to me with his concerns I began to become concerned.”

Stanley also added, “Bennett has told me he was looking for another job.”

Commissioner Judy Townsend stated that she felt there were not enough black people as department heads.

Prior to the Commissioners’ vote, the City Manager was given an opportunity to speak on his own behalf. Bennett addressed the commissioners and citizens’ concerns, but he also shared some personal thoughts about his job.

One of the first things Bennett shared was his love for Madison and his job. “We have a lot going on here. I would ask that we do not change horses in midstream.” He spoke of a desire to involve more community groups (particularly pastors and community groups) to “develop family recreational opportunities where parents and children can enjoy themselves and feel safe.” He spoke of opportunities for grant acquisitions and continuing development of the downtown area.

Once Bennett returned to his seat, Commissioner Catron reminded the commission of the various levels of evaluations that could have (and should have) been conducted. “We the commission try to do the best for this City. What’s going to work for the City?” asked Catron. “We know the status of the City. Let’s do our best (as commissioners) for the City,” he continued.

Finally, it was time for the vote. The motion to not renew Bennett’s contract was made by Commissioner Ina Thompson. At this point, Mayor Rayne Cooks stated, “Everyone deserves a second chance.”

Commissioner Judy Townsend seconded the motion made by Commissioner Thompson. Commissioner Jim Stanley also voted in favor of not renewing the contract.

The motion to not renew Bennett’s contract was passed three to two, with Commissioners Catron and Cooks in the minority voting to retain Bennett for another year.

Bennett will remain as the City Manager through Dec. 31, at which time his employment contract will end.

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