The debate over hiring a city administrator erupted at the Glen Rose City Council meeting Monday night, with emotions flaring among members and Mayor Pam Miller slamming her gavel to settle down the audience.

Several items on the council’s posted agenda, including a discussion to cancel interviews for the position, drew a standing-room-only crowd to the council chambers.

During the public comment portion at the first of the meeting, Dr. Pat Condy, executive director of Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, voiced his support for hiring a city administrator to oversee operations at Town Hall.

“With a business the size of yours, but with 20-some employees, to me it’s unthinkable that a business of that size does not have a CEO or a manager,” Dr. Condy said.

He stressed the need to have “one person who is accountable and knows the business and knows what it is to manage a city.”

His comments drew applause.

Miller, however, said that she had spoken with the city’s outside accountant and auditor and its financial advisor Jim Sabonis of First Southwest and said that neither one felt that the city could justify hiring a city administrator at this time.

“We would definitely have to raise taxes to hire a city administrator,” the mayor said.

City Council member Barbara Mitchell, who was appointed to a panel that was reviewing applications for the job, which was posted on the Texas Municipal League Web site, said that she talked to two candidates who were making $85,000 a year and $190,000.

She questioned whether the city should be spending that kind of money given the uncertain economy. The other members of the panel were Larry Shaw, Gary Whittle and Larry Fleming, all of whom have worked for other municipal governments. More than 50 candidates had applied for the position.

Councilman Bob Stricklin, who has been a strong supporter of hiring a city administrator, took issue with Miller’s and Mitchell’s statements. He said that Glen Rose has grown so much that the council and city staff can’t handle it all.

“There are things on the agenda right now that wouldn’t be here” if the city had an administrator, he added. That was reference to an item on the agenda to rescind a bid for street work on Summit View and Longhorn streets. Some city staff employees had gotten confused and thought that each other had placed advertisements for bids, as required by law. But they hadn’t.

The city also is supposed to state the time and date the council will open and read the sealed bids to the public. But it doesn’t.

“To me, this doesn’t make any sense business-wise,” Stricklin said of canceling the interviews. “It’s just amazing. We’ve been through this for two years and all of sudden it’s balling up.”

He added that no proceeding with the position would “be to the detriment of the city.”

Members of the audience applauded.    

Councilman Chris Bryant also said the council has struggled with employment issues and others that a city administration could provide guidance about. He also expressed frustration that it takes too long to get decisions made and action taken.

“Things get put on the agenda time and time again and they get tabled and tabled,” he said. “We could have done it one session instead of a lengthy time.”

Why would hiring a city administrator raise taxes, Bryan asked.

“We’ve got enough money so we wouldn’t have to raise taxes” to hire a city manager, he added. “Saying it will raise taxes scares the people. I don’t think we should do that.”

Newly elected councilman Johnny Martin also said he didn’t favor spending the money for the new position given the economic downturn.

“Even if we didn’t raise taxes, that’s a lot of money that could go to curbing and streets,” he said.

Martin also said he would feel more comfortable promoting someone from inside the city rather than looking outside for candidates.

“If we bring somebody up from outside, you don’t know what you’re getting,” he said. “I feel more comfortable with somebody already in the system.”

Mitchell said she favored waiting.

“Everything is running smoothly,” she said. “There’s no harm in waiting. We need to be a little more conservative with our money.”

She made a motion to rescind the hiring process.

“Why abolish the whole idea?” Bryant asked. “Why not let the new council go consider this? Why rush to kill it?

In the end, the council voted to postpone making a decision until after it can schedule a retreat to discuss that and other city issues. Stricklin opposed the motion and said accused Mitchell of railroading the panel to stop the hiring process.

Mayor Miller said that Mitchell “was a member of a committee and she made a suggestion that these (interviews) be cancelled. It was a suggestion made as a committee member.”

“I told Larry (Shaw) we needed to cancel them for now,” Mitchell said.

“That poisons the well and you know it,” Stricklin said. “First of all, you are a council member. When you speak as a council person and you carry that weight….what you did and you did it legally, but I think it’s highly unethical.”

When the next item to rescind the bid came up, Stricklin said, “I wonder if we’d have to do this if we had a city manager.”

When applause broke out, the mayor picked up her wooden gavel and slammed it to silence the crowd.

“Bob, I would appreciate it if you would refrain” from making incendiary comments, she said.

After the meeting, Mitchell said she was concerned that the city administrator panel had not complied with the Open Meetings Act by posting notification of the meetings. (See her letter to the editor on the Opinions page).

When reached for comment, Shaw said the panel did not believe it was doing anything illegal and viewed its role as more of a consultant that would make recommendations.

He also said that none of the candidates that were in the running for the job were drawing the kinds of salaries discussed at the council meeting. Most recently the panel was looking at people making in the $75,000, plus benefits, he said.

“I’m disappointed,” Shaw said, “not for us, but for the city.”