Franklin selects interim city manager

Published 11:35 am Wednesday, March 13, 2024

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The Franklin City Council interviewed two candidates for the role of interim city manager on Monday, March 11, prior to its regular meeting that evening and then voted 5-1 to hire Darlene Burcham to the role during the regular meeting.

Ward 3 Councilman Gregory McLemore was the lone dissenting vote, and Ward 2 Councilman Ray Smith was not present for the meeting.

Franklin was 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 introduced the agenda item allowing consideration of an interim city manager hire on Monday by saying, “My last day with the city is March 26, and so there will need to be an interim city manager appointed effective March 27. This item was placed on the agenda if there were any recommended action. It is also later on the agenda for closed session if additional closed session discussion is needed by council.”

Franklin Mayor Robert “Bobby” Cutchins informed citizens attending or watching the meeting that the council had interviewed Burcham and Michael Rodgers earlier in the evening.

“Both of them were very knowledgeable,” Cutchins said.

Ward 4 Councilman Dr. Linwood Johnson said both candidates interviewed were dynamic.

“But what I’m looking at basically is Ms. Burcham has worked for Roanoke, Norfolk and so forth, and sort of the Hampton Roads area,” Johnson said. “The other person worked I think close to Charlottesville and some in Petersburg and so forth.”

Johnson also highlighted Burcham’s stated plan, were she hired, to meet with city staff regularly in the wake of a City Council meeting to make sure the staff knew exactly what the council needed, wanted and was trying to do.

“To me that is a win-win situation, whereas the (other) individual said he does a monthly meeting with staff,” Johnson said. “But when you have the micromanagement of making sure staff can implement what council wants, that’s the job of a city manager — interim as well as permanent.”

Johnson also noted that budget season is underway, and price-wise, there was a big difference in numbers from Burcham to Rodgers.

“I move that Ms. Burcham would be our choice because she dealt with Roanoke, she dealt with Pulaski, which is about 9,000 (people), so basically you have a person that’s dealt with groups of our nature instead of a person who’s dealt with larger groups,” Johnson said.  

He said both candidates were capable, but he felt that Burcham would do an excellent job whether she was hired for a 6-month stint or a 6-month stint plus an extension.

“In a nutshell, I so move that we hire Ms. Burcham for interim city manager,” he said.

Ward 5 Councilwoman and Vice Mayor Wynndolyn H. Copeland seconded the motion.

Johnson later amended his motion to include the detail that council was giving Cutchins authorization to sign a contract with Burcham.

In discussion prior to the vote, McLemore said he did some research, and ChatGPT, along with other sources, stated that the city’s human resources director should be included in the hiring process.

“So I think for us to say, ‘We only have two people to pick from’ is a reflection on how far we’ve spread the net and how much we have advertised for an interim city manager,” he said. “I think that when you have only two to pick from, you’re kind of stuck when we also brought up alternatives to bringing in an interim immediately.

“So I’m of the opinion that we’re not in an intelligent position to make this decision tonight by entertaining a motion to hire someone basically off their resumé and a 30-minute interview,” he said.

Ward 6 Councilwoman Jessica G. Banks shared some other information with the public.

“In addition to the interviews, we did also bring in two of our current city employees, and whereas I am definitely pro hiring an interim city manager, one of which we interviewed on tonight, I will say that’s also contingent upon bringing in two of our current staff that are already familiar with our city,” she said. “Tonight we also interviewed (Franklin Police) Chief (Steve) Patterson and (Franklin Parks and Recreation Director) Sammara Green, and we would love for them to assist with our new interim city manager. So I wanted to bring that up as well, because I would like for that to be considered as well in appointing them.”

Franklin City Attorney Heather Hays Lockerman encouraged the council to deal with that matter separately.

“I need to, ideally in closed session, provide you all with some legal advice on that particular issue if you wish to go forward with that,” she said. “My understanding is right now there is a motion on the floor to hire Ms. Burcham and there is a second. So y’all need to figure out what you want to do with that motion, and then we can move forward.”

The 5-1 vote followed shortly thereafter.

“So we’ll go into negotiations with Ms. Burcham,” Cutchins said.

Then he shared his perspective on the situation the city is currently in.

“We are in a situation where the city needs to move forward,” he said. “We are in budget season. We need somebody to come in and help keep us on track to where we’ve been and where we’re going. I understand that it would be nice to have plenty of time and have plenty of people to come in here and interview. We had two wonderful candidates this afternoon — top of the line. And I don’t know, maybe they don’t watch all our meetings, maybe they do, but we need people here that can support us and take care of us.”

Later during her report, Jarratt said, “You all directed staff to contact the Berkley Group to work with you to obtain a permanent city manager, so we did that. They are available to meet with you all May 18 for a working session to talk through what attributes you’d like to see in your next city manager.

“I would advise you that human resources is not available that night, and so if you would like them to attend that work session, then you’ll need to look at a different date,” she added.

Cutchins said he would like to find a different date.