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Posted: December 20, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Covington adopts new management structure

Council also votes down office renovation

 In light of the poor economy, the city of Covington has decided not to hire an assistant city manager but instead to restructure its management hierarchy by putting in place three division directors who will take on some of the duties of City Manager Steve Horton.

At the Covington City Council’s Monday night city meeting, Horton told them of the changes to the city’s management structure, which he and city staff have been discussing for the last 18 months.

Under the office of city manager, who serves at the will of the mayor and city council, the city’s bureaucracy has been divided into three branches: Administrative Services, Public Services and Public Safety.

Each of those three branches now has a division director who reports directly to Horton. These division directors are all existing city department heads who will continue to run their own departments in addition to their new duties.

The division directors’ new duties will include some staffing and financial decisions that Horton would have been making under the old management structure as well as dealing with employee and customer complaint issues.

"They’ll actually make some independent decisions that I would probably have been making in other cases," Horton said. "There are some decisions, like purchasing, that are always going to come to me. Ultimately, anything that can’t be resolved, it comes to me."

Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton will become the division director of Public Safety. He will have oversight over the Fire Department and E-911 Communications in addition to the Police Department.

Utilities Director Bill Meecham is the division director of Public Services and has oversight over Safety/Risk and Environmental Compliance, Public Works and the Utilities Department.

The new division director of Administrative Services is Personnel Director Ronnie Cowan, who will now oversee the departments of Information Systems, Planning and Zoning and Finance as well as Personnel.

The restructuring also created two new assistant division directors: Covington Fire Chief Don Floyd, who is the assistant director of Public Safety for the city and Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon, who is the assistant director of Public Services.

Whereas it would likely have cost the city approximately $140,000 a year in salary and benefits to hire an assistant city manager, the creation of the new division directors and assistant directors only adds approximately $25,000 total to the operational budget of the city in small raises to each of the promoted department heads.

These new division directors and assistant directors will serve as a new level of command between Horton and the city’s 10 department heads.

"It’s a level between me and what was," Horton said. "What that does is it improves information sharing in that if I’m here trying to keep up with what is going on in 10 departments, I’m pretty well stretched so I might not be sharing as much as I might like to."

Horton said he has also instructed his division directors to put in place succession plans in the event that they quit, retire, or die so that the city is not left with an abrupt absence of division leadership.

The new division directors also ensure that in the event that anything happens to Horton, the city council will have able, high-level managers to work with in the time that it takes to find a replacement.

"I think it adds depth to our bench," Horton said.

Horton’s changes to the city’s management structure were well received by the city council who applauded him and his staff for their fiscal thriftiness.

"I’m glad to see you delegating out," said Mayor Kim Carter to Horton.

City Clerk John Grotheer gave the city council a brief update on the city’s finances and let them know that the city was in strong financial shape as the first year of the current recession comes to a close.

After starting the fiscal year with a $590,000 surplus, the city increased that surplus by about $600,000 by freezing hiring for nine to 10 city jobs that were unfilled for a total surplus savings of nearly $1.2 million.

The city also has approximately $48 million in cash reserves for the payment of structured-long term debt and for bulk energy purchases and other city needs.

"We feel like we’re in reasonably good shape," Horton said," adding that the forecasted decreases in property and sales tax revenues next fiscal year aren’t expected to be overly great. "We’re looking pretty flat. We don’t look like we’re declining that hard."

In other city council news:

The council voted 2-4 to not approve a bid for furniture and fixtures to the Elected Officials’ office at City Hall. The council members that voted against it said they thought the single bid received for furnishings of $22,680 was too high.

Voting in support of the bid were Councilmember Mike Whatley and Councilmember Ocie Franklin.

The bid received for the furnishings was from Dario and Associates, the interior design firm hired by the city to redecorate the office. Horton said two other firms (one local and one from Atlanta) picked up bid proposals but did not submit bids.

The council decided to form a new committee to reexamine the interior design plans and individual furnishing recommendations put together by Susan Dario to see if there wasn’t any way to lower the bid price. Franklin, Whatley and Council Member Keith Dalton volunteered to sit on the committee.

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