Goins' ride into sunset

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Fred Goins is about to do what few Frankfort city managers have done before. He’s going to retire at the time of his choosing – Aug. 27 – apparently without a nudge, gentle or otherwise, from the City Commission.

The former deputy county judge-executive and director of the Franklin County Health Department became the capital city’s 12th “permanent” manager in 2011. He’d served seven months as interim manager after the firing of Tony Massey, who paid a $1,000 civil fine for violation of the city ethics code. Massey was the only manager ever to undergo a Board of Ethics hearing. He was found to have improperly assisted former City Commissioner Kathy Carter in getting her rental duplex cleared for occupancy even though it lacked the requisite inspections. She also drew a $1,000 fine although, unlike Massey, she appealed the ethics board’s decision. It was recently upheld by Franklin Circuit Court.

Frankfort adopted the city manager form of government in 1958 and named S.R. Marshall, the city engineer, as its first manager. He started at $10,500 a year and stayed until 1965. The 11 managers employed since then have mostly been short-timers. Ken Thompson and the late Paul Royster hold the longevity record, at 14 and 12 years, respectively. The minimum tenure was seven weeks, a record set by Don Smith in 1970.

Municipal management is a tough job just about anywhere but can be especially hazardous in Frankfort’s political torture chamber. Stroking five political egos (four commissioners and a mayor) would test anyone. Make none of them happy and you’re gone in a hurry. Make two of them happy and three unhappy and you’re still out. Massey stayed on the good side of three members and still got the ax, albeit with a generous severance package that made the experience more bearable.

Amid the bloodbath of “permanent” managers, those who’ve held the office on an interim basis typically fared better. The politicians eagerly lavish praise on temporary occupants of the office who’ve broken ground for successors.

Goins himself came to the job as an interim manager, chosen by a unanimous vote of the commission in 2011. He accepted the responsibility with the understanding that he might, like others before him, step aside for the next permanent manager. A cancer survivor, he kept the political games in perspective and his personal options open. Perhaps, he told State Journal reporter Kevin Wheatley, he might decide he’d rather go fishing or play with his grandchildren instead. But when the commission offered to make the temporary assignment a longer-lasting arrangement a year ago, he accepted. “I’m very happy to be manager of my hometown,” he said at the time.

Goins said one of his top priorities as city manager would be to enhance staff morale by nurturing mutual trust. A step in that direction came when the current commission reinstituted a form of “longevity” pay. As a cost-cutting measure, the previous board had voted to phase out the seniority rewards granted in addition to any across-the-board pay raises. Those incentives are back now, although less generous than before.

Goins acknowledged the job has been stressful; at 65, he wants to spend more time on personal interests. Commissioners are beginning the hunt for a new interim manager. Then there’ll be a nationwide search for a permanent successor. They could do worse than find another Fred Goins.

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