Esto considers creating new town administrator position

Due to perceived ongoing issues with how the town’s day-to-day government operations run, the Town of Esto is looking to potentially start a new town administrator role.

The person would carry out the wishes of the Council, help out with both public works, and work with Town Clerk Ben Tew.

“(The town administrator) would be in charge of hiring, firing, day-to-day operations, being able to sign checks,” Council Vice President Josh Davenport said. “I think you want this person to be able to handle assisting things like events, going to (Holmes County Board of County) Commissioners meetings. We want a practical, day to-day operating person.” 

Discussion about the need for such a role came up during a Town Council meeting on March 19.

The position can be full-time at 35 hours at possibly $17 to $18 an hour at $32,000 to $33,000 a year, Council Vice President Josh Davenport said. 

“They definitely have to have civic experience of some kind. You have to have worked at some point in the government–like a city local government. You need to understand how that stuff works because that’s vital to what’s going to be going on,” Davenport said. “The person has to have a pretty good understanding of public works. They have to have a decent understanding of the clerk position. They need to be available for council meetings and accessible to the public at certain times in the afternoon.”

Running into public works and clerk needs is going to happen in a small town, Davenport said.

“You’re going to need some type of person that can handle more than just one thing if they’re going to be an administrator or manager or whatever we choose,” Davenport said. “That’s person’s going to have to pinch hit no matter what. They’re going to have to step up to the plate and put another set of hands on projects.” 

Help will be needed when it comes to future events such as the Two-Toed Tom Festival in September instead of asking Tew to print signs and handle other tasks, Davenport said. 

The Town Council is expected to discuss the matter further during their next monthly meeting on April 16 at 7 p.m.

Creating a Town Administrator role came about after a discussion on changing the town’s form of government was initiated by Town Attorney Michelle Jordan Blakenship. Esto currently does not have a mayor or mayor pro tem. It instead has a Town Council President and Vice President. The President’s authority is to mainly run meetings and the Town Council makes decisions as a whole.

“I would venture to say your form of government is one of the biggest things holding you back from development,” Jordan said. “Every major item has to come before the Council at a regular meeting and you only do that once a month. It’s hard to push forward much business when everybody has to consider this in a public meeting that only happens once a month.” 

Internal disruptions or disciplinary actions have to be held in a public forum, which “really aren’t appropriate to discuss in a public setting,” Davenport said.

Davenport has been helping out with public works duties due to medical issues sustained by Public Works Director Billy Martin.

“Right now, I’ve been volunteering an extremely significant amount of time. Let me just be honest with you, this situation has gotten here because, number one, the lack of oversight,” Davenport said. “On the other side, we’ve gotten here because our public works situation wasn’t where it should be. Nothing was getting done. I come in for one week. (Public works employee Tony Manis) and I were able to fix the water line, get the shed done. The point is without oversight, it’s always going to run into issues.”

Councilmember Greg said he wants to know where the money to pay a town administrator will come from. Councilmembers and town staff have acknowledged the town’s municipal budget is tight.

“The need is there. The funding, I feel like, at some point we’re going to have to find some way to make it happen,” Davenport said. “It’s just the way it is for us. We can kick the can again and move it down the road. I’m telling you, we’re going to be back in some type of thing that requires this again.” 

In the interim, Davenport said he will have more direct control over who is hired and fired. 

“From the Council’s side, this isn’t good,” Davenport said. “We have a big issue and, either way, I’m going to have to figure out a way to solve it.”

Davenport asked how anyone in the Town government is supposed to take a day or week off without shutting down Town Hall under the current structure. 

“(The town administrator) has to be on call. They have to be salaried because they’re going to be on call all the time,” Davenport said. “That person has to be available. When the phone rings, they pick it up.” 

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