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Archive for: January 2012

Crosby hired as permanent city manager

Jim Crosby, Piedmont city manager

Jim Crosby, who had been serving in an interim role since October, was the city council’s unanimous pick to become Piedmont’s permanent city manager.

“I find it very exciting and challenging,” Crosby said about becoming the permanent city manager. “We have a lot of challenges facing us but I believe we can get moving on some of the big issues we need to address.”

Crosby has served in city manager positions with the cities of Yukon and Norman, two communities that have experienced rapid growth over the past few decades. It was that experience that Mayor Valerie Thomerson said made him the council’s top pick.

“We actually interviewed four people total, one of those being Crosby,” Thomerson said. “The other candidates were strong in the sense that every single one of them had city manager experience. They had been city manager somewhere else. But (Crosby) had more years than anyone else had and the fact that he had already been in cities that were smaller with exploding population and exploding economic development means he has been where we want to go.”

Thomerson also said she believed Crosby had more previous experience than any former Piedmont city manager.

“If you look at former city managers, we have never had anyone with this kind of experience,” she added. “That’s paramount for us moving forward.”

The city manager’s position became vacant last year after the council voted to remove Clark Williams.

During a meeting last week the council voted to make Crosby the permanent city manager effective immediately but is still drawing up final details of an employment contract that is expected to be approved later this month. Thomerson said there were several issues that needed to be determined but did not see a problem moving forward.

“We are looking at providing a 30 day severance, which (Crosby) is requesting,” Thomerson said. “That would be good because we didn’t want it to cost the city an arm and a leg if a future council decided to remove (Crosby).”

Williams’ contract with the city provided him with a six month severance package upon his firing.

Thomerson also said the pay range for Crosby will most likely fall in the high $60,000 to lower $80,000 range but did not envision a problem coming to an agreement, which Crosby agreed with.

“I don’t think I am going to be asking for the moon,” he said. “I think it will be a very sensible contract and very appropriate.”

Moving the city forward

Crosby becomes city manager during a time of political turmoil in Piedmont. Several hot button issues have been debated on by the city council and an upcoming election season is expected by some to be emotionally charged, as was the case last year. However, Crosby said he believed the council could work together and he is planning to make communication a priority in an effort to move forward on key issues.

“I think the city council is more than willing to work together,” Crosby said. “The communication is the important part. You have to let each other know your true position on items. There have been some misunderstandings (in the past) but if they had just been able to sit down and talk it over I think a lot of these problems would have gone away.”

Crosby said he is planning to hold public meetings for the council to learn about important issues without being asked to vote. Citing water needs, roads in need of repair and the budget as big issues facing the council, Crosby said he wanted to hold meetings where council members could ask questions and avoid last minute cram sessions before council meetings.

“There are a number of items that we just need to discuss without voting,” Crosby said. “I don’t think people respect sometimes the problems the council has. It’s a thick council packet, they meet once a month and they have a couple of days to cram on items before meetings. If we can let them know ahead of time I think (regular) council meetings can be more efficient.”

Another delay by council in Williams Foods vote

Williams Foods grocery store in Piedmont. (Ben Felder)

For every step the city council seems to take towards finalizing a tax incentive agreement with Williams Foods there has been a two steps back approach at the last minute, and the dance between Williams Foods and the city continued this week with more concerns raised by councilmen and a rescheduling of a special meeting.

The Piedmont city council was scheduled to meet today (Jan. 5) to vote on a proposed contract between the city and Williams Foods for $1.9 million, plus interest, in sales tax rebates. Last month the council appeared ready to make the final vote and the item was on the agenda for the Dec. 27 meeting, but the council said it wanted to conduct a special meeting since City Attorney Tom Ferguson was absent.

On Wednesday Mayor Valerie Thomerson sent an email to the council stating she wanted to push the special meeting back one week because some council members had expressed new concerns with the contract and that Ferguson would not be back in town until next week.

“Some questions have been brought forward with regard to the Local Development Act and whether or not we have followed procedures as outlined by that Act,” Thomerson said in her email to council. “(Ferguson) indicated that he attempted to do some research while on vacation, however he does not have access to his usual array of tools. He has indicated that he needs to do some further research to make sure we comply with this Act and with the (Oklahoma) Constitution.  At this time he has some reservations.”

In a phone interview with the Gazette on Wednesday, City Manager Jim Crosby said he was still researching the concerns raised and was not sure if the Local Development Act is applicable concerning the Williams Foods contract.

“(The act) requires the appointment of a review committee to make findings and you have to have a certain number of hearings that you have to hold to go forward with this,” Crosby said. “But whether or not this is applicable is something we are waiting for the attorney to provide input on.”

Councilman Vernon Woods said he does not feel the Local Development Act is a valid concern and accused members of the council for trying to delay the contract vote.

“Since the agreement with Williams concerns only a sales tax abatement – not the Local Development Act – I suggest that you consult with a real municipal attorney who keeps up with current state laws and let him explain it to you,” Woods said in an email to the council and mayor.

Thomerson said there were also some concerns that the contract would require a 4/5 vote by the council because it indebts the city. However, Woods also questioned that theory and said the contract includes a sales tax rebate, which is not technically debt.

“The Williams contract does not indebt the city to anyone – it merely guarantees a rebate of the sales tax collected by Williams,” Woods said. “Only a bond issue requires the super majority vote.  A simple majority vote will legally finish this deal.”

Crosby said he was waiting on the city attorney to make an official recommendation concerning the number of votes needed but believed the concerns raised are only minor setbacks.

“I am sorry that we are not having a meeting (on Thursday) because it is important that we get this done,” Crosby said. “But it’s also important that we get it right and we need to have a meeting with the attorney present.”

Crosby said a contract was created that both the city’s attorney and Williams’ attorney agreed on but it was not known by the council that Ferguson would be absent for two weeks on vacation.

“I really feel it’s a minor delay,” Crosby said. “(Ferguson) got this (contract) written up and then he went out of town and no one knew he was going to be out of town. I think if we knew he was going to be out of town the meeting would have been put off anyways.”

However, Crosby also said he is hoping the council will make a vote one way or the other next week because there has been “ample time” to research the contract, which has been in existence for over two months.

While some see the rescheduling of meetings and new questions about the contract as minor delays, Williams Foods owner Jeff Williams said he has already become impatient with the council and believes there are some members that will never approve his contract.

“This is more political mumbo jumbo,” Williams told the Gazette in a Wednesday morning phone interview. “The first contract was written by a city attorney so it would be approved fast and they fired him. Now they have their own contract and their own attorney and they still can’t come to a decision.”

Williams said he was specifically confused why the council continues to come up with new problems over a proposed contract when it has had more than two months to explore the issue.

“The more they bring up new stuff this is bordering on insane,” Williams said.

When asked if he was prepared to file a lawsuit against the city Williams said it was a legal question for his attorney. However, he did say he believed opponents of his grocery store were hoping to force a lawsuit from him so that he looks like the “bad guy.”

Councilman and Mayor Pro-Tem Larry Gage said he was against postponing the Jan. 5 meeting and was also concerned the delay over a vote was intentional.

“I was wanting to get this done so we could get Jeff Williams’ grocery store issues behind us,” Gage said. “I believe it’s a delay tactic. We have had a long time to get all of these issues worked out.”

Gage said this was the first time he had heard a concern over the Local Development Act and was also under the impression that a simple majority vote by the council was needed.

“I thought the (votes) were there a month ago,” Gage added. “This caught me by surprise.”

When asked if he thought the concerns raised by councilmen Wade Johnson and Hoss Cooley were politically motivated Gage said he wanted to give them the benefit of the doubt. However, he also said that was becoming harder to do with each delay.

“I have to trust them for what they are saying,” Gage said, “but obviously when one is saying one thing and doing something else you gave to consider it.”

The council is scheduled to meet on Jan. 12 for a special meeting to discuss and possibly vote on the Williams Foods contract.

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