Editor's Note: This article was updated on Tuesday, May 25 at 8:45 a.m. to clarify that Commissioner Leesa Unger moved to remove three items from the city's consent calendar.
Another 3-2 vote decided the fate of City Manager Tom Russell.
Russell will stay on as city manager until July 30, a measure approved by Commissioners Leesa Unger and Kelly May and Mayor Layne Wilkerson at Monday night's Frankfort City Commission meeting. Russell’s contract would have ended May 31.
Commissioners Kyle Thompson and Katrisha Waldridge expressed strong disapproval of the extension for financial reasons, while the rest of the commission said that keeping him as the city’s top administrator would lend stability to city government.
The discussion took place after the commission went into closed session for a number of reasons, one of which was to discuss the ongoing search for the city’s next full-time city manager. Russell’s employment in the post since former City Manager Keith Parker was fired last summer has been understood to be temporary.
Two weeks ago, the city commission withdrew a $150,000 offer to Thomas Hutka, a veteran municipal administrator from Broward County, Florida.
Hutka never accepted the offer despite missing out on a city manager job in Fort Myers, Florida, for which he was a finalist. He had multiple meetings with Frankfort officials.
Russell has been city manager in an interim or temporary full-time capacity for the better part of a year. He has continued his first role as Frankfort-Franklin County Emergency Management Director throughout that time.
Wilkerson told The State Journal earlier that the commission fully reopened the search to any qualified candidates who would be interested, adding that previous candidates for the position were welcome to be considered for the position.
Waldridge opposed Russell’s assignment to the city manager role at most every turn, citing the expense of bringing moving him from seasonal employment — a designation he had when he was just emergency management director — to year-round as well as concerns about taking time away from his emergency duties in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thompson, who took office in January, has taken a similar tack.
The pair made multiple motions — to terminate Russell’s contract, to give those duties to City Attorney Laura Ross and to allow Ross and city Planning Director Eric Cockley to serve as co-interim city managers — as alternatives to Russell's continued service on Monday night.
Human Resources Director Kathy Fields estimated that another 60 days added onto Russell’s contract would cost the city roughly $30,000.
When asked, Ross, who is also assistant city manager, said that Russell would be a better leader during the budget process than her because she hasn’t been as involved.
“(Russell) is probably the best person to continue until we get the budget passed,” she said. “… I just want to make sure that I put that out there and that I’d be remiss to not let you know that I have not been working on the budget.”
May, Unger and Wilkerson also argued that the $30,000 that will come to Russell was already a budgeted expense within the city manager’s department, and that having someone with experience at the helm would be valuable during this time.
“I’m uncomfortable losing Mr. Russell right now knowing that he’s been running things with the budget,” Unger said. "Let’s just continue to move through that (hiring) process, and hopefully we can do it sooner rather than later.”
Thompson said that extending Russell’s full-time employment another 60 days will increase the total amount paid to him as full-time city manager to $75,000. Russell has made a $130,000 annual salary since his appointment.
“I just want to be clear that if this is the decision of the majority of the group, we are costing the city $75K, where if we let Laura take over, there is no increase,” Thompson said. “… I have absolutely no problem with Tommy Russell. He and I talk daily. We all came in here saying we’d be fiscally responsible and that we weren’t going to do things that were done in the past.”
May pushed back on Thompson’s point, arguing that not having a city manager during budget season is “not the way our government is set up to run,” and that he wouldn’t want to vacate Russell’s seat until the commission agrees on a permanent replacement.
Thompson also suggested that some may want to see Russell as the permanent city manager, a point that May and Wilkerson pushed back on by emphasizing that the entire commission voted to extend an offer for that position to Hutka last month.
The commission approved appointments to two city boards before it considered the reappointment of Polly Coblin to the city’s parks board.
Coblin’s record on the board was not discussed, but the commission ultimately voted 4-1 to hold on her reappointment to consider material submitted by Frankfort resident Quentin Coleman for consideration to join that board.
Waldridge said Coleman sent a request to her earlier this year, but that she did not forward his request to others with the city until very recently. She said that Coleman, who is Black, is a resident of eastern South Frankfort near Dolly Graham Park. The park, which is being renovated, has been a hot topic discussion in recent years due to years of neglect.
Waldridge stressed that Coleman’s potential appointment would increase board diversity, and that she wasn’t sure if anyone from that area has ever served on the parks board.
“I would really appreciate if we could table this reappointment until everyone could be able to look over his letter and his resume,” Waldridge said. “… Dolly Graham and that community could have a spokesperson on this committee.”
In the city’s consent calendar, it approved around $1.5 million in sewer-related expenses. The heftiest item approved was to Herrick Co., of Lawrenceburg, for a $1.39 million replacement of the bar screens that clean trash out of influent sewer flow to the E.C. McManis Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant has been in operation since 1979, and city officials say that there have been few upgrades to the facility since then.
One significant expense removed from the consent calendar was a $192,135 contract to replace sewer infrastructure damaged by a Walmart contractor.
“During construction to replace the storm water line by a Walmart contractor, FSD's infrastructure was damaged and must be repaired,” the agenda item read. “FSD has been working with the contractors' insurance company to provide answers for the repairs that are needed."
Unger made the motion to pull that item from the consent calendar, as well as a $32,759 expense for police purchase of unmanned air vehicles and a $107,800 contract to replace a sewer line on Wilkinson and Olive Street.
Unger said that there were "things that need to be addressed." Russell said that he was working on addressing those items.
Frankfort Parks Director Shawn Pickens also gave the commission an update on the renovation of Dolly Graham Park. The park’s new playground equipment has been placed and could open this weekend.
Frankfort Grants Manager Rebecca Hall provided an update on the city’s work to create the Thorobred Trail, a walking path that connects Kentucky State University to Regan Street in downtown Frankfort. Hall said that only about 10 days of work remained to finish the trail but that there is a backlog in materials ordered due to the COVID-19 pandemic.