COVINGTON, Ga. — Longtime city employee Tres Thomas was appointed city manager during the Covington City Council’s meeting Monday, May 16.
Based on discussion by the council, Thomas is expected to serve in the role at least through the remainder of 2022 until a path forward is determined.
Thomas has most recently worked as the city’s planning and development director and city engineer. He steps in to lead the city government’s day-to-day operations after former city manager Scott Andrews announced his departure Tuesday, May 3.
Thomas said he was grateful for the council’s appointment to serve in what he called an interim basis, and he intends to lead with integrity and character.
“Over the last 20 years, I’ve had the opportunity to lead several departments and work with many city employees,” Thomas told The News. “During this period, I’ve learned a lot about myself and those I’ve worked with on a regular basis. I’ve gained a fair amount of knowledge about infrastructure, development and the city in general. I’m honored to serve in this interim position and grateful that the mayor and council have given me this opportunity.”
Thomas’ appointment was narrowly approved 4-3 after Mayor Steve Horton was forced to break a 3-3 tie. Council members Charika Davis, Anthony Henderson and Kenneth Morgan voted in opposition; however, their disapproval was not with Thomas’ appointment but, rather, the process.
According to city attorney Frank Turner Jr.’s review of the city charter, there are no guidelines or stipulations to allow the appointment of an “interim” or “acting” city manager.
“The charter just states, ‘You shall appoint a city manager,’” Turner relayed to the council.
If Thomas understood this appointment was to be on an interim basis, Morgan said he felt the appointment should be to make him “interim city manager.” Henderson also wanted the title of “interim city manager” be given to Thomas to provide clarity for the public.
The last two city managers (Andrews, 2019-2022; Leigh Anne Knight, 2013-2019) negotiated and received an appointment to work under contract, Turner said. Before that, city managers of Covington did not work under contract and only served “at the pleasure of the city council.”
“And Mr. Thomas has agreed to take the position with that understanding as well,” Turner said.
In discussions prior to the Monday meeting, the council had apparently agreed to appoint Thomas to serve through at least Dec. 2022. Horton and other council members including Fleeta Baggett, Don Floyd and Susie Keck said they thought it was best to take time, go through the budget process and figure out what direction is best from a financial standpoint, considering the uncertain state of the economy.
Davis vocalized her displeasure with the plan and felt the city needed to move quicker. She said the state of the economy and the country’s record inflation rates were an “excuse” that shouldn’t be used.
“I don’t agree with waiting to see, like, the state of the economy,” Davis said. “I mean, we need a city manager.
“I think we should try to find another city manager before the end of the year,” she later added. “The economy is good, the city is doing good, so I don’t see a reason why we can’t go ahead and try to put a plan in place to set up interviews.”
Several council members then voiced their disagreement with Davis.
Considering the volume of development projects taking place in the city, Keck said she thought easing into the hiring process would be best for the city, as well as for whoever is next tapped city manager.
“It’s not a great time,” Keck said. “If somebody internally did not earn our vote, and we hired somebody from outside, this city would be in turmoil. It’s critical right now that we take time. Assistant City Manager John King will learn more under Tres. Tres has been with the city for 20 years. It is temporary, and I think we reconvene at the end of the year, and that’s when the [hiring] process starts.”
“You can’t jump into this [process] fast,” Baggett echoed.
Another factor to consider, Horton said, was the amount of recent staff turnover.
“The stability of the organization is what’s in play right now,” Horton said. “We just had the city manager leave, we’ve got another key person [Community Development Director Trey Sanders] that goes out the door this week, and we’ve got a finance director that’s leaving in a week. It’s [about] stability.”
The role of Covington’s city manager is similar to that of a CEO. The city manager is charged with leading the daily operation of the city’s government, which has a $142 million budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year and more than 300 employees.