City leaders look to clear the air regarding City Manager promotion

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by A.C. Hall

At the Dec. 19 White Settlement City Council meeting, White Settlement City Manager Linda Ryan’s resignation was accepted by council and in a 3 – 2 vote,  Economic Development Director Jim Ryan was named as her successor.  Council member Elzie Clements and Mayor-elect Ron White voiced their displeasure over the whole process in comments following the Dec. 19 meeting, each calling into question the timing of the promotion.  Clements, along with council member Danny Anderson, voted against naming Ryan as the new City Manager while Steve Ott, Mike Arnold, and outgoing council member Gene Hatcher voted in favor of the motion.

In the week since the vote, some of those opposed to the action have made allegations regarding the manner in which the Jim Ryan promotion came about.  One prevailing allegation is that a secret meeting was held between council members Steve Ott, Mike Arnold, and Gene Hatcher in which they came up with the plan to name Jim Ryan as the new City Manager.

In The Grizzly’s coverage of the Dec. 19 meeting, many comments were shared from those opposed to how Jim Ryan’s promotion was handled.  This week, we reached out to council member Steve Ott to get his side of the story about the steps that lead to Jim Ryan becoming City Manager.

“Shortly after the election, Jim Ryan, Linda Ryan, Mike Arnold, Gene Hatcher, and myself were in Jim Ryan’s office.  We were talking about the election results and Councilman Clements stuck his head in and started accusing us of having a secret meeting,” Ott said.  “I believe the ‘secret meeting’ thing evolved from this.  He was invited in to take part in the discussion, but he declined.”

Ott shared about the rules that govern how council members are allowed to communicate and the subjects they are allowed to discuss.

“It is not against the rules for Council members to communicate with each other.  Even if a quorum is present, as long as the items being discussed are not in the Council’s realm of responsibility (no City business is being discussed), then this is allowable,” Ott said.  “The election results are far beyond Council’s responsibility.  If Councilman Clements had joined the conversation, then he would have been aware of the content of the so called ‘secret meeting,’ but he chose not to.”

Council member Danny Anderson also spoke with The Grizzly Detail about this matter as he shared his thoughts on how the promotion came about.

“Several months ago I was in Jim Ryan’s office and he mentioned that Steve Ott had asked him to take over when Linda retired,” Anderson said.

Anderson went on to detail that conversation he had with Ryan, saying during it he was informed that Ott already had the votes needed to approve the promotion of Ryan to City Manager.

“That would suggest to me that there had been some conversations between Ott and the others,” Anderson said.

According to Ott, the idea of having Jim Ryan move into the City Manager position has been discussed for some time.  Ryan himself spoke to The Grizzly Detail on this point, saying he talked to each council member about the idea.

“There were no secret meetings at all.  In fact, I asked and discussed with each Councilman separately about my future with the city at one time or another over the last six months,” Ryan told The Grizzly Detail.  “Last Friday’s decision should not have been a surprise to anyone.”

Ott went deeper into detail about the process, saying that Linda Ryan had been talking about retiring.  This lead Ott to approach Jim Ryan about stepping into the City Manager position once Linda left.

“Linda has been talking about retiring for approximately the last 6 -7 months.  In an attempt to maintain continuity of leadership in this City, about 5 months ago, I approached Jim Ryan about him staying on after Linda left, and if the Council so desired, becoming City Manager,” Ott said.

One aspect of the situation that has come under fire from Clements, Anderson, and Mayor-elect White is the fact that the City Manager position wasn’t opened up for applications.

“I feel that without going out for resumés we are not fulfilling our duties to the people,” Anderson said.

These comments mirror those shared by Clements and Mayor-elect White.  Ott argues that making Ryan an interim City Manager or opening up the position to applicants wouldn’t have been best for the City.

“The term ‘interim’ to me means ‘we will make you manager, but only on a temporary basis, until we find someone to replace you.’  This shows no confidence in the individual, and makes them believe they will not be in that position very long.  Who would want to assume a position with that being held over their head?” Ott said.

Mayor-elect White had the strongest worded opposition to the naming of Jim Ryan, saying the action was a disservice to citizens.  Ott responded to this.

“How can continuity of leadership be a disservice to the citizens?” Ott asked.

Ott went on to say that it’s not a requirement to open up the City Manager position to outside applicants.  He said the process would’ve taken a minimum of three months depending on the number of applicants and that it could’ve lead to an unknown individual coming in that might look to eliminate current staff and hire new people.

“Promoting qualified personnel from within, and maintaining continuity of leadership makes so much more sense than hiring someone whom you do not know,” Ott said.

Earlier in his comments, Ott laid out why he feels that Jim Ryan is the right choice.

“Jim is well known within city staff, staff knows and respects him, he has run large companies before working for the City, and he holds a Bachelors degree in Business Administration.  He is more than qualified for the position,” Ott said.

An aspect of the situation that has come under heavy scrutiny is the timing of when Clements and Anderson say they received Jim Ryan’s City Manager contract.

“I got a copy of the contract fifteen minutes before we were to vote on it.  I felt and made it clear that it was inappropriate to do this.  The motion was already typed up and ready to read.  That tells me it was a done deal,” Anderson said.

The contract was also mentioned by Mayor-elect White in comments he made to The Grizzly Detail on Dec. 19.

“Who developed this contract and who was aware of the contract prior to tonight’s meeting?” White asked.

The creation of the contract was raised with Ott, who gave information about how it came about.

“It is a copy of Linda Ryan’s contract with some revisions,” Ott said.

Detailing those revisions, Ott said the contract removed medical coverage since Jim Ryan had indicated he didn’t need it.  He also said that Ryan’s car allowance was rolled into his salary.

“I believe those are the only differences in the two contracts,” Ott said.

Despite their opposition regarding the process of his promotion, both Ott and Clements have stated that they have nothing personally against Ryan.

“I will work with whoever is serving in the office to move our city forward and serve our citizens,” Anderson said.

Following his promotion on Dec. 19, Ryan said he wished he would’ve been unanimously appointed, but he understood the vote and is confident in his ability to work with this council.  While not everyone is happy with the process, as the new year dawns and a new council member and Mayor step into office, Jim Ryan is the new City Manager.

New Mayor Ronald A. White and new place one Council Member Paul Moore will be sworn in on Jan. 13.    To see a map of the three proposed locations 

for the wastewater plant, turn to page 6.