City Council votes 4-3 to amend DFA agreement

Published 6:25 pm Friday, October 4, 2019

Approved motion requires executive director to report to city manager


The Downtown Franklin Association’s letter of agreement with the City of Franklin has, for years, specified that DFA Executive Director Dan Howe is to be paid by the city, but report to the DFA’s Board of Directors — a body of 15 volunteers, most of whom are downtown business owners.

As of Monday a week ago, however, this is no longer the case.

At its Sept. 23 meeting, Franklin’s City Council voted 4-3 to amend the agreement to now require Howe to report directly to City Manager Amanda Jarratt.

“Nobody should be employed by the city of Franklin and not have to answer to the city manager,” said Councilman Bobby Cutchins, who had made the motion to amend the agreement.

Councilman Linwood Johnson seconded Cutchins’ motion. Voting in favor of the motion, in addition to Cutchins and Johnson, were Councilwoman Wynndolyn Copeland and Councilman Benny Burgess. The three dissenting votes came from Vice Mayor Barry Cheatham, Councilman Greg McLemore and Mayor Frank Rabil.

During the Council’s discussion of Cutchins’ motion prior to the vote, Howe, who was in attendance at the meeting, also objected to the modification of the agreement.

“You’re going to tear me in half, who do I serve?” Howe asked the Council members. “I report to a board as of right now … He [Cutchins] basically just killed the Main Street model, because they clearly say who the director needs to report to — a separate board.”

Virginia Main Street is a program administered by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, and funded by the Virginia General Assembly as part of DHCD’s overall budget. According to VMS Public Relations Director Amanda Love, Virginia Main Street is the state-coordinated partner of the National Main Street Network, otherwise known as Main Street America. VMS, she said, provides grant opportunities, training, technical assistance, design assistance and marketing to participating communities. Franklin has been a VMS participant since 1985.

Love then confirmed that VMS requires participating communities to have a paid program manager or executive director and an independent organization with a board of directors. She further confirmed Howe’s assertion that, per VMS rules, the executive director is typically required to report to said independent board of directors.

“However, there are a couple of exceptions around the state that have hybrid models or models that were otherwise approved or grandfathered into the program,” Love said.

According to the version of the city’s letter of agreement with the DFA that City Council adopted earlier this year on April 8, the city and the association agree to designate the executive director a city employee with respect to the payment of salary, the granting of employee benefits and the applicability of personnel policies and procedure; and to designate the executive director a DFA employee with respect to the determination of job duties and responsibilities, the supervision of the employee and the evaluation of such employee, though city staff may assist in such matters as requested by the DFA Board or the president of the association.

According to Howe, this arrangement with the city regarding the executive director position has been in place since at least 2002 when the first formal letter of agreement between the city and the DFA was signed. Howe then said he was not at liberty to discuss the letter of agreement further, because he had been advised by the DFA’s legal counsel not to go into details.

Jarratt, when asked about the matter, said she was uncertain as to why the executive director position was set up this way, since the origin of the arrangement predated her taking office as city manager. She did, however, confirm that, per the terms of the letter of agreement that had been in place prior to Cutchins’ motion, the city was obligated to fund Howe’s position, but had no control over his duties nor any means of evaluating his performance. She added that the city is now looking into whether or not this agreement is in compliance with Virginia’s retirement system rules, which apply to all public sector employees.

“I don’t know that we’ve ever looked into that in the past,” Jarratt said.

It remains unclear as to whether the revised agreement, as it was amended per Cutchins’ motion, means that from now on, Howe would report to Jarratt instead of the DFA Board, or if it means that Jarratt and the DFA Board now have equal authority and responsibility for Howe’s duties and performance. Rabil, when asked about this, and about why he had cast one of the dissenting votes on Cutchins’ motion, said, “In my opinion, it is premature to discuss or work this in the press until the two groups [City Council and the DFA Board] can get together and work out the details of a new agreement.”

It should be noted that Rabil, in addition to serving as mayor of Franklin, also serves in an ex-officio capacity on the DFA Board as the City Council’s liaison. The other ex-officio member of the DFA Board is Ashley Covington, marketing and existing business manager for Franklin-Southampton Economic Development Inc.

Cutchins had claimed, prior to making his motion on Sept. 23, that the 2019-2020 letter of agreement — in addition to designating the executive director as both a city and a DFA employee — had also included a provision stating that should the City Council wish the executive director to report directly to the city manager, it could require an updated letter of agreement. Cutchins reiterated this claim during an interview with The Tidewater News on Sept. 24.

While the version of the 2019-2020 agreement that City Council adopted on April 8 does indeed state that “this agreement may be revised by an amendment in writing adopted by the Board of Directors of the Association and by City Council,” it does not appear to include any language regarding the possibility of the executive director answering to the city manager.

Jarratt confirmed that, “Council certainly reserves the right with any agency they fund to revisit the agreements that are in place.” When asked if Cutchins’ motion, following the Council vote, was now in effect, or if the DFA Board would need to vote on it before it became effective, Jarratt said she had not received any communication from the Downtown Franklin Association regarding the motion approved by City Council.

Cutchins, when asked about his reasons for wanting Howe to report directly to Jarratt, said, “The city of Franklin is moving forward and is seeking to build stronger partnerships and relationships with all agencies that provide services to the city of Franklin. All agencies and community organizations working to improve the city and downtown Franklin need to work together and collaborate. The days of working separately, without accountability, need to be gone. My only hope in the motion that was passed [Sept. 23] is that we can work together to provide a stronger return on the taxpayers’ money.”

Regarding Howe’s performance, he said, “I wouldn’t say he’s been unaccountable. He was accountable to his DFA Board. Now, we’re just asking for a stronger direction.”

As for the DFA, “I don’t want to see it go away,” Cutchins said. “I just want us to move forward.”