Saluda moves forward with city manager transition

Published 10:00 pm Friday, August 14, 2015

By Brandon Shanesy


The City of Saluda will hold a hearing in September to discuss and gather public opinion in regards to a proposed charter amendment.


In the board of commissioners meeting held on Aug. 10, Commissioner Lynn Cass said she wants to continue exploring the idea of converting Saluda’s administrator position to a city manager.


“It’s not going to happen before 90 days, so we might as well get the process started,” said Cass.


Under North Carolina General Statute 160A-102, a public hearing must follow a motion of intent within 45 days.


After the hearing, the commissioners will be required to wait an additional 30 days before adopting the amendment.


“I think it would be a good move for the city,” said Cass. “Tryon and Columbus both have city manager forms of government and it has worked well for them.”


“It’s time for us to move forward,” she added.


Saluda’s recently retired administrator, Erny Williams urged the city to transition to a manager when finding his replacement. In the April meeting, Williams requested that the commissions leave day-to-day operations to a manager and begin leading Saluda into the future.


Currently, the elected commissioners oversee the various departments in Saluda. Cass handles water and sewer; Leon Morgan oversees the streets and parks, Carolyn Ashburn leads buildings and sanitations and Mark Oxtoby oversees public safety.


In most cases, the city manager acts as each department’s head, controls the budgets and reports to the commissioners monthly with updates.


“It takes the politics out of the departments and their administration,” said Cass. “We feel very territorial about our departments, and this way we’re all in this together.”


However, there is an option that allows Saluda to employ a city manager and continue to divide departmental responsibility among the commissioners.


“That is a second decision that the board would have to consider,” said city attorney Bailey Nager.


Nager went on to say that Saluda’s current system is a more hands on style when compared to other local cities and towns.


“The commissioners here are closer to their individual issues,” he added.


The city manager also possesses the power to hire and fire personnel.


“I’m comfortable with either way,” said current interim administrator Jonathan Cannon.


Cannon, as administrator or manager, would continue to serve under direction of the board.


“How many other towns in North Carolina have a city manager for 715 people,” asked Morgan.


“The majority,” answered Cass, “and there’s not that big of difference between Saluda and Tryon.”


“I’m just not for changing it,” Morgan said.


“It doesn’t mean the decision is made, we are just continuing to talk about it,” added Ashburn.


Cass made the movement to hold the public hearing in September, which was seconded by Ashburn.


Morgan and Oxtoby opposed.


“I’m so opposed to it is because I know how much it cost Polk County to get rid of their manager,” Morgan said.


“That was a contract situation,” replied Mayor Fred Baisden, “this board does not have to have a contract.”


Baisden, in favor of holding the public hearing, broke the tie. The commissioners agreed to hold the public hearing at the next scheduled meeting, which will take place on Monday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m.


An official vote will be taken in the following October meeting.


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