Managers in flux

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In 54 years of city manager government, the comings and sometimes-abrupt goings of “permanent” managers have given Frankfort an opportunity to sample a variety of interim administrators while hunting Mr. Right. A city solicitor, a city housing inspector, a city planner and a retired businessman all drew high praise for the yeoman work they performed during transitional times. The most recent, Fred Goins, topped off an administrative career in county government by agreeing to fill in as city manager following the ouster of Tony Massey in 2010. He also won plaudits but recently decided he’d rather be retired.

The City Commission’s latest pinch-hitter is Police Chief Walter Wilhoite. Serving as top cop has been about as hazardous an occupation as city management over the years, so he should be well prepared for political slings and arrows aimed in his direction. Some might question whether it’s possible for anyone to handle the overall supervision of city government’s daily operations along with the high-pressure duties of law-enforcement leadership. Wilhoite expects no problem.

With remarkable candor, the chief says his public safety role isn’t terribly difficult because two majors do most of the real work without requiring much supervision on his part. This suggests he’s reasonably secure in a position that often found predecessors fending off covert and open rebellion in the ranks. The ability to delegate authority while retaining ultimate responsibility for all phases of the organization’s activities is a talent demanded of city managers. As interim manager, Wilhoite will have an office just across Second Street from the Public Safety Facility so he should be able to shuttle between two command posts as necessary.

The chief was one of 11 candidates for the interim job, and all now have the option of applying for the permanent assignment. The commission recently received bids from three consultant firms offering to expand the search and had planned to pursue that route before Goins accepted his managerial responsibilities.

The current commission plans to continue taking applications and also to hold a meeting to read public opinion on what qualities the city should seek in its next chief administrator, but it apparently is going to delay a final decision until after the Nov. 5 election so any newly elected commissioners can participate.

That’s a good idea. There will be at least one new board member because incumbent Commissioner Bill May is running to return to the mayor’s office for a fourth term. The other three incumbents no doubt are confident that they’ll be re-elected but realistic enough to understand that political success can be fleeting as well as unpredictable. The next city manager will need to get along with the commission voters choose. Kyle Thompson, May’s opponent in the mayoral election, promises to emphasize public safety if he’s elected. Some of the commission challengers want to consider changes to the “pay-as-you-throw” garbage program enacted by the present board. Whether incumbents or challengers prevail, the manager will have to operate under the policies the next commission sets.

The next manager will be better off starting work with the new board’s full confidence, expressed in a unanimous hiring decision.

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