Houston & Peach

Warner Robins council move puts administrator position on hold

Warner Robins Council debates administrator

The Warner Robins, Ga., City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, voted make an economic development consultant working for the city the council's administrator.
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The Warner Robins, Ga., City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018, voted make an economic development consultant working for the city the council's administrator.

Warner Robins City Council members made a personnel move Tuesday night that puts plans to hire a city administrator on hold.

The council voted 5-1 to make Charles Whatley an administrator for City Council. He is now an economic development consultant for the city's Development Authority.

Members in support of the move said his role would be to keep council members informed on city matters. They said he would not have authority over any city employees.

Councilman Tim Thomas said the only cost to the city is that Whatley will now get health benefits. Thomas estimated that to be about $15,000 annually. The Development Authority now pays Whatley's company $11,000 per month for his services, and that will continue along with his service to the authority.

"If we've got a question, instead of six of us contacting a department head on one issue, he can go get the answer and email all six of us, and that department head can deal with one person," Thomas said.

At the start of the year, the council seemed likely to hire a city administrator. Before the November election, it had already approved an ordinance creating the position. During his campaign, Daron Lee, the only new member on council, strongly supported hiring a city administrator.

However, Thomas acknowledged that many residents remain against hiring a city administrator.

Whatley's position would not take any authority from the mayor, Thomas said, but would help the council be able to make more informed decisions and communicate better with city departments.

"This is the best of both worlds," Thomas said during a pre-council debate on the issue. "It gets us what we need as a council and still leaves the mayor with his powers."

Thomas said after the meeting that the ordinance creating the city administrator position will remain in place, but the council will not go forward with filling it at this time. He said he still believes the city will eventually have a city administrator.

Councilman Mike Davis cast the only vote against the measure. He said he had no problem with Whatley but had questions about how the position would work. He said he only heard about the proposal Friday and believed the council should take more time to consider it.

Mayor Randy Toms has expressed support for giving the city clerk more authority to act in a role similar to a city administrator, but not for creating a separate position that would take away from his authority.

He read from the city charter that the mayor is the city's chief executive officer.

"If that's what y'all need, I am not going to oppose it," he said, referring to the proposal voted on Tuesday. "But I don't need anybody to come in here and help me do my job."

Also at the meeting:

* In the pre-council meeting, Lee asked for a review of city hiring policies to see if more can be done to hire minorities for vacant positions. Toms said he is forming a task force to look at that issue.

* The council approved an ordinance that would require the mayor to present his annual budget to the council 60 days in advance of voting on it. The requirement is now six weeks. It also requires a public hearing on the budget to be held in each council district.

* Over objections from about a dozen residents, the council approved a rezoning of five acres on the corner of Woodard Road and Old Perry Road. The zoning will change from general residential to general commercial. The owner, Keith Newton, said he doesn't know what will go there, with possibilities including a day care center, self-storage or a convenience store. Residents said it doesn't fit with the area, but Newton said he is planning a large housing development behind it and would not do anything that would harm that.