Jonesboro City Council approves 2014 budget despite concerns about city administrator position

JONESBORO — The Jonesboro City Council narrowly voted to allocate nearly $70,000 for a new city administrator position in its $3.8 million 2014 budget without deciding if it even wants to hire one Monday.

Councilman Bobby Wiggins said he estimates about $62,400 of the budget’s $70,327 increase in administrative employee salaries is set aside for the appointed administrator position. The hourly salary would be $30, he said.

But the council hasn’t taken up the topic of creating such a position as a group, and Wiggins said that was a large part of why he voted against the budget.

The budget was approved by a 3-2 vote. In addition to Wiggins, Councilman Clarence Mann also voted against the budget. Mann seconded an unsuccessful motion by Wiggins to remove the position from the city’s spending plan before it was adopted.

“If we’re going to add another personnel, it should be voted on and discussed (separately) but that wasn’t done,” said Wiggins.

Jonesboro hasn’t had an appointed city administrator or city manager in several years so bringing the position back — the position has been approved with the budget’s adoption — will be a fundamental shift in the city’s government.

But it’s not a given that the council will actually hire a city administrator, despite the funding allocation. Mayor Joy Day said the issue of whether it should be filled won’t go before the council until sometime after new council members take office in January.

There isn’t even an official title, so the position could be called something other than city administrator, she said.

“We don’t know for sure if it’s going to be a city administrator or special assistant to the mayor. We don’t know yet,” said Day. “We haven’t really given a title to it. We just put some money in for another position at City Hall.”

Day argued a city administrator is needed to help her with the operation of the city. Jonesboro is the only city in Clayton County that does not have an appointed official to oversee day-to-day operations.

Day currently presents items to the council for approval. She also represents the city at official gatherings of Clayton County’s municipalities even when other cities send their city managers in lieu of an elected representative.

Day and the council also have direct supervision over city department heads with employees going to the mayor before going before the council for approval of requests.

This new position would be filled by someone with professional training to oversee construction and special purpose local option sales tax projects, the mayor said.

“We are involved in a lot of paving projects. We have a SPLOST coming up [and] we have a SPLOST we’re still administering. We’re involved in sidewalk projects. We’ve got the Lee Street Park project coming up,” said Day. “We do not have anyone professionally trained at city hall to manage all of these particular matters.”

She later added, “If you want to run a city hall professionally, you need someone with professional training.”

Wiggins said he isn’t sure if he would support the appointment of a city administrator. His biggest qualm right now is how the funding for the job was brought before the council without a discussion and a vote first on whether to create the position.

He said it is the same basis for his qualm with a nearly $16,000 raise for police chief Franklin Allen that was included in the budget. Wiggins said both items should have been brought to the council for a separate discussion and decision from the ones held on the budget.

He said there was some discussion at one time about giving Franklin a raise, but he added nothing was done at the time.

“We should talk about and decide what we’re going to do and once that’s done just put it in the budget and pass it,” said Wiggins.

But Day said Wiggins had an opportunity to question the line items when he came in to meet one-on-one with department heads about items in the budget. Each council member got to come in individually and meet with department heads about their budget requests, she said.

Council members also got a more detailed budget than the one made available for public inspection. The one presented to council members during their meetings with department heads included explanations of what the money for some line items would be spent on, said Day.

Meanwhile, the version made available for public inspection lumped the city administrator position in with other officials listed under the vaguely-described “regular employees” line item for the city’s administration department.

The mayor said council members were made aware of the city administrator funding request and the proposed raise for Allen, along with every other line item request, during those meetings. Day said Wiggins did not take that opportunity to express concerns about the spending requests.

“He came to those meetings, so why he didn’t discuss it then, I have no idea,” said Day. “We told him it was in there, and we were requesting it, but there was no objection to it.”

The budget will go into effect Jan. 1. Residents who wish to see the budget can view it online in the documents section at www.news-daily.com.