Leigh Anne Knight will be the next city manager for Covington, and she’s already made history as she became the first female ever to hold the city manager position for the city.
A handful of citizens filed into council chambers Thursday night to hear the Covington City Council reverse its course and chose to appoint one of its three original finalists by a 3-2 vote, only three days after voting to seek more candidates.
Councilman Keith Dalton made the motion to appoint Knight, who has served for nearly four years as the city’s finance director, as the next city manager. Councilmen Dalton, Chris Smith and Mike Whatley voted to approve Knight, while councilwomen Ocie Franklin and Hawnethia Williams voted against the motion. Councilwoman Janet Goodman was absent.
A few of the council members called Knight to tell her the news, as she was attending a conference where she was taking classes regarding utility rates. She told The News Thursday after the meeting that she was excited and honored to be named to the position.
“I am excited. Obviously, with the excitement, there is a little unknown and nervousness of just getting in there and getting my feet wet and getting everything going,” Knight said. “I look forward to it and I am extremely honored that they felt like that I had the qualifications and the ability to take it on.
“I look forward to working with the council and the mayor and with all the employees. I think that it takes everybody to make it be the city that it is and I hope that I can lead them in the direction that we need to go to continue to move it forward,” she said. “I know I have some big shoes to fill. Having known the previous two city managers — and I worked closely with the previous city manager — I know I have some big shoes to fill and I look forward to the challenge.”
It was Whatley who proved to be the swing vote. At the council’s meeting on Monday, Whatley made the motion to seek more candidates after voting against making Covington Police Capt. Craig Treadwell city manager. However, he changed his mind Thursday, and seconded the motion for Knight to replace former city manager Steve Horton.
“I had to make a decision,” Whatley said after the meeting. “Neither one of them met necessarily my qualifications 100 percent, but [Knight] met them more so than any one out of [the] three.
“I think Leigh Anne Knight is a very confident young woman and I think she will do a fantastic job with the support of the employees and the council. She’s done a great job with the finances here, which is one of the main things that a city manager has to deal with. I think she will do a great job,” he said.
Dalton said he was glad the process was over with and he was very comfortable with the decision.
Smith said he was glad that the council finally made a decision and that the council needed to move the city forward. He explained how he reached the decision of appointing Knight, after his motion to appoint Treadwell failed at the council’s Monday night meeting.
“Well, he obviously wasn’t selected, and it was 4 to 2 and we still had two candidates in the top three that we had looked at and I very vocally expressed that we picked the top three, and let’s put one of the top three in the job. The other option was to hire another consultant firm or to spend thousands of dollars more with The Mercer Group,” Smith said. “We were worried about that process because we would have ended up being right back where we ended up tonight.”
Initially, the council thought the cost to do additional searching would be minimal, because they would only be paying “out-of-pocket” expenses, like travel. However, according to an email from The Mercer Group sent to the mayor and the council, those fees would have ranged from $5,000 to $7,000, not to exceed $8,000. Mercer had given the city a discount the first time around, capping out-of-pocket expenses at $4,500.
“I think that this is going to be good for the employees to see that we’re going to stand behind our employees and try to promote within and try to move the city forward,” Smith said.
Smith also said he was surprised of how the vote went because he felt there was a consensus from the council of appointing Knight; however, the appointment was made with a 3 to 2 vote, with Franklin and Williams opposing.
After the meeting, Williams said her vote along with Franklin’s had nothing to do with Knight, but the fact that Councilwoman Goodman wasn’t included in the vote, and the council agreed from the beginning that everyone needed to be present during votes regarding the city manager.
“This woman has been on the council for 30 something years; she’s a senior person,” Williams said. “They completely ignored her like she didn’t exist and I think that she should have been here and Ocie feels the same way... It didn’t have anything to do with Leigh Anne. Our vote was not against Leigh Anne, it was the fact that they rushed the vote.”
Mayor Ronnie Johnston said Goodman had other obligations that she could not get out of. He said even if she was present and there was a 3 to 3 vote in appointing Knight, he would have broken the tie and appointed Knight as city manager.
“Every meeting, we have a situation where somebody may or may not be here. We had a quorum so it was appropriate from that stand point,” Johnston said. “I’m not sure why you wouldn’t still vote, because I actually made the statement — because I feel strongly about Leigh Anne and moving the city of Covington forward — I said in the worst case scenario, if Ms. Goodman was here and she voted against Leigh Anne, that would have been a 3 to 3 tie and I would have broken it.”
Regardless, Johnston said Knight was a great decision for the city of Covington, and he was very proud of the council for finally taking a step forward in the process.
“I think Mrs. Knight will make us proud, I really, really do. I’m just glad we were able to continue moving forward instead of being stuck in a holding pattern,” he said.
Johnston said the city will have to work out the details of Knight’s transition from finance director to city manager and didn’t have a start date for her first day on the job. He also said Horton will be instrumental in helping ensure that Knight is successful as the new city manager. Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon had been filling in as city manager.
For a full background on Knight, read our previous story - http://www.covnews.com/section/1/article/36565/