In a decision that drew both groans and applause, Danville City Commission voted to hire longtime mayor John W.D. Bowling as interim city manager Thursday night.
It was another 3-2 vote, with Mayor Bernie Hunstad and commissioners Gail Louis and Ryan Montgomery voting “yes.” Commissioners J.H. Atkins and Kevin Caudill voted against the hire.
Bowling, who served three terms as Danville mayor, will be paid $6,000 a month beginning June 1 when the employment contract goes into effect. Bridgette Milby, acting interim city manager since shortly after Paul Stansbury was suspended, will return to her position as head of codes enforcement.
Bowling’s most recent term as mayor ended in 2006 when he did not run for re-election. Bowling also served two terms as a city commissioner and two terms as 54th District state representative. Most recently, he has served as a member of the planning and zoning commission. His term on that body expired last week.
Bowling, who was called into executive session Thursday, said after the meeting that he was reluctant when first approached about taking the job a couple weeks ago. He said he decided to return to public life for the first time in nearly six years because of the ostensibly temporary nature of the job.
While he has been away, Bowling insisted he has not kept close track of the unfolding situation at city hall.
"I have sort of been immune to what’s gone on in city government other than my work on P&Z (as a commissioner)," Bowling said. "But I am obviously very familiar with the inner workings of a city government."
Bowling said his first action would be to convene meetings with the department heads.
The motion to hire Bowling clearly rankled some in the audience Thursday, several of whom again voiced concern on what has become an increasingly contentious issue.
Bowling's name had circulated in the days before the meeting as the presumptive favorite for the job. Hunstad was asked some questions before the commission entered executive session that clearly seemed aimed at the former mayor.
Local attorney Mark Morgan implored Hunstad and others to choose someone from outside of Danville unbiased by local politics and who had a background and education in city management, the only general guidelines spelled out in the statutes. He said the commission should avoid picking a property or business owner, or former mayor, who may give the appearance of having a conflict of interest.
After the meeting, Hunstad said the parameters for selecting a permanent city manager were secondary to someone who could go to work immediately.
“We’re selecting an interim city manager not a (permanent) city manager and we felt like for that reason his knowledge and background were the most important things,” Hunstad said.
The 3-2 split that became clear in the lead-up to the action taken against Stansbury was again evident Thursday.
Before the executive session to discuss personnel, commissioner J.H. Atkins attempted to make a motion to reinstate Stansbury. The motion could not be heard because the specific topic was not listed on the special meeting agenda.
“I thought we had some candidates that better fit the Kentucky League of Cities guidelines for hiring an interim and had more experience with municipal management,” Caudill said. “I also thought there were people whose salary requirements would have been easier on the budget.”
Hunstad acknowledged that Bowling, who never lost a race for office, was both a popular and polarizing figure in the community. However, he said his standing in the community and track record were important for a short term appointment.
“He came in and addressed the commission prior to the vote, and I think did an outstanding job presenting himself,” Hunstad said. “Even people who find him to be a polarizing figure, I think, like many of the things he did and have respect for him.”
Hunstad also reiterated his statement that his intentions in bringing in Bowling, like the decision to fire Stansbury, was not a step toward thwarting the city manager form of government. He said Bowling actually addressed the issue when talking to the commission in executive session.
Hunstad and Bowling each said emphatically that the appointment is only temporary. Although the original plan was to wait to move forward with hiring a permanent replacement until after a public hearing requested by Stansbury now set for June 27, Hunstad said he would talk to the city attorney about beginning part of the process sometime next month.
In other business, the commission voted to give all city employees what Hunstad referred to as an “equity based” raise, the first bump in pay staff have received in three years.
The option chosen by the commission divided employees in each department into three tiers and will give a 3 percent raise to the lowest paid employees, 2 percent to the middle tier and 1 percent to the highest pay grade. The total cost to the city will be $115,765.
Hunstad, Louis and Montgomery voted in favor of the motion. Caudill and Atkins voted “no.”
The original draft of next year’s budget included a 1.5 percent raise for all city employees, which would have had a total cost of about $106,000. Atkins said he was prepared to support that plan, while Caudill said he would be in favor of dividing the increased total amount to give larger across-the-board raises to all employees.
At an earlier budget meeting, Hunstad had asked city financial advisor Michele Gosser to come up with different scenarios for raises based on level of pay. Other options included a .5 percent raise for the top tier, 2 percent for the middle tier and 3.5 percent for the lowest tier, as well as variations of each plan that also gave a .5 or 1 percent raise to part time employees.