Franklin City Council taps Berkley Group for interim manager

Published 11:47 am Thursday, February 29, 2024

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Franklin’s City Council decided on a path forward Monday, Feb. 26, with regard to hiring an interim city manager, voting 6-0 to proceed with the Berkley Group and have that organization send the city a list of eligible candidates.

Ward 2 Councilman Ray Smith was not present for the meeting.

Amanda C. Jarratt

As noted on its website, Berkley Group LLC is a consulting firm with more than 60 employees and remote offices throughout the states of Virginia and North Carolina, and the group specializes in administration, community development and planning, education, human resources, public safety and much more.

Franklin is pursuing an interim city manager after current City Manager Amanda C. Jarratt submitted her resignation Feb. 1. The resignation will become effective in late March.

Jarratt created the floor for the discussion of an interim city manager during the Feb. 26 council meeting by including it in her city manager’s report.

“As you all know, my last day with the city is March 26, and so it is important for there to be a smooth transition, that you all decide what you’re going to do regarding an interim city manager and then decide how you would like to approach the recruitment process,” she said. “This item is placed on your agenda in two locations. It’s here for the open session discussion and then it’s also listed as a matter for closed session. You have the opportunity to discuss it in both areas.”


Ward 4 Councilman Dr. Linwood Johnson promptly said, “I so move that we adopt the Berkley Group for the interim city manager, Clarence Monday.”

Monday has previously served as interim city manager for Franklin.

Ward 1 Councilman Mark R. Kitchen seconded the motion, and Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins asked if there was any discussion.

Gregory McLemore

Ward 3 Councilman Gregory McLemore said, “I think that we should have a work session on this discussion because I had the experience of being here with Mr. Monday the last time that he was here, and I am more of the opinion that we need to have someone that is more familiar with the department heads and the staff, particularly for an interim period. So to jump right on Mr. Monday, I would rather us have tabled this motion until we can have a called meeting that we can discuss this in greater detail, because I think that’s a rash action.”

McLemore said he realized the urgency of the situation and he wished the council would have had meetings on the city manager position prior to Feb. 26, but he said he thought that just adopting one opinion without discussing all of the relevant information was jumping the gun. He expressed the concern that Monday is not familiar with city business.

He highlighted the importance of continuity and having someone who is familiar with the city “as we approach these traumatic times that we are in.”

He then qualified what he meant by “traumatic times,” including a reference to the Franklin Director of Finance Rachel Trollinger submitting her resignation effective March 28.

He said, “We won’t have a Finance director, we don’t have a city manager, there’s questions as to what will happen with our legal department since we don’t have our own city attorney. We are in a precarious situation that I haven’t seen in 13 years since I’ve been here.

“So I think to rush into bringing somebody in just because they’ve been a city manager or interim before, as I expressed, I don’t see where Mr. Monday did anything that fantastic when he sat in the last time,” McLemore continued. “So I think that we need to discuss this further before we vote on bringing somebody in just because they’ll come and take our money.”

Linwood Johnson

Johnson responded.

“What we’re looking at — and it’s not a rash decision — the decision is to move the city of Franklin forward, to make sure it’s secure,” he said. “In order to do that, the Berkley Group has experienced people who have been city managers before.”

He noted that the last part of the budget that had just been discussed earlier in the meeting is something that requires a qualified person who has dealt with municipal budgets before, not just someone familiar with employees of the city.

“Experience is very necessary,” he said. “You don’t want nobody new in, trying to deal with the budget. So the Berkley Group works with (Virginia Municipal League). All of the towns, cities and counties use the Berkley Group religiously when they need a city manager, so basically that is the best way to go.”

“In your opinion,” McLemore said.

“I don’t think we need a work session on that,” Johnson said. “We need to move forward with that for the city and the citizens of this city.”

He indicated that it is council members’ role to work for their citizens.

“This is the way we do it,” he said. “Anything else is out of order.”

McLemore said, “It seems that you’re saying we need experience. When you voted to hire the last city manager, they had no experience. We had 17 applicants. You didn’t interview but one. They had no experience, but you held onto the fact that they were familiar with the city and the community.”

He said, “So I think that that’s a disingenuous argument because we have people who have been hired with no experience. We’re only talking about interim, and we’re talking about supporting our own.

“Now the city manager will be here until the (26th),” he continued. “They’re familiar with the people that are here. They can work with the people that are here.”

He said he did not know if the city has even had applications solicited yet for the city manager position.

Robert “Bobby” Cutchins

Cutchins said, “The city of Franklin is a big business, it’s your city, it’s your business. My only concern is I would like to see us put somebody experienced in the position to protect all our interests. 

“I do not agree that the city is in the worst state it’s been in 13 years as said earlier,” he continued. “I do not agree. We are in a situation that we have not been in, and my goal — and I would like to think the council’s goal — is not allow anything to go wrong to hurt our city and what we have accomplished and to continue moving forward for the betterment of all.”

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jessica G. Banks said she is not opposed to getting a person for the interim city manager role that has expertise.

“However, is it possible for (the Berkley Group) to send us more instead of just handing us one (candidate), that we could actually take a look at other resumés and qualified people?” she said.

Cutchins said, “From what I understand, Clarence Monday is available. There are others that are available. I have no problem at all making interviews and moving forward. I do not want us to procrastinate and put us in a bad situation with the state and federal authorities, because we are accountable for this city, and if we do not move forward in the proper channel, we’re at fault.”

McLemore then said, “Mr. Mayor, you just said that you wanted to move ahead with somebody experienced, and I will remind you that it was you who pushed forward to hire somebody with no experience in the past…”

“Let me rebut,” Cutchins said. “Let me rebut.”

“I haven’t even finished my sentence,” McLemore said.

“Well, everybody knows where you’re going,” Cutchins said.

“Well, where am I going?” McLemore asked. “Tell me where we’re going.”

Cutchins said, “We made a decision back when City Manager Jarratt was hired here to come in. She had a lot of experience in the field of economic development. We made a decision that has proved strong for this city in my opinion, and I stand forward in what we did years ago.”

“Yes,” Johnson said.

“I have no regrets,” Cutchins said. “I do not think we’ll make the wrong decisions going forward in the future, and I stand proud to be on this council.”

“Thank you,” Johnson said in response to the mayor’s statement.

McLemore said, “Well, Mr. Mayor, I’ll tell you what, I was there when you got here, and I don’t know how long you said on several occasions you may not be here, and I’m going to say I plan on being here as long as the citizens send me, and I disagree, because our city has never been as deep in debt as we are today, never in the history of this city. When Mayor (Jim) Councill sat here, we were in a fraction of the debt.

“We have emerging projects that Mr. Monday knows nothing about, (as) opposed to local people that are familiar with the Armory project, they’re familiar with the Blackwater walking project, they have some familiarity with the courthouse project, so you want to bring somebody that’s an expert that knows nothing about our city,” he added.

Cutchins then addressed citizens watching the meeting on the YouTube stream and those in attendance.

“I am the mayor,” he said. “I am one vote, just like the rest of this council. I am no different than anybody else. I do not consider myself to carry any more clout than anybody else. I’m respectful for everybody here and everybody that works here. I love this city, I do what I do for this city, and I will continue until I decide not to or you decide you don’t want me.”

In response to inquiries from The Tidewater News, Jarratt noted that in January 2019 between the transition of City Manager R. Randy Martin and the beginning of her own tenure in the role, there were five department head positions either vacant, filled by an interim, or filled by a consulting firm. These positions included director of Human Resources, Finance director, Parks and Rec director, police chief and fire chief.

In response to general inquiries about the city’s financial health, Jarratt noted that in 2011, the city of Franklin’s unassigned fund balance was less than the required 15%. It is now more than 30%.

Jarratt also addressed inquiries from The Tidewater News regarding the city’s debt.

“No borrowing or issuance of debt is done without a public hearing or the majority vote of City Council,” she said. “The borrowing done over the last few years includes the city’s obligation to the Southampton County Courthouse, roofs for Franklin City Public Schools, demolition and the new construction of the Armory, and required renovations to the City of Franklin Courthouse.”

At the Feb. 26 meeting, Johnson agreed to revise his original motion that specified Monday as the interim city manager. The revised motion that passed 6-0 was to proceed with the Berkley Group and have the firm send the city a list of eligible candidates for the position of interim city manager.