Peachtree City begins search for new city manager
A City Hall insider has confirmed that Peachtree City City Manager Bernie McMullen was not forced out of his job, but instead elected on his own to retire.
The City Council Thursday night voted unanimously to enter a “separation agreement” with McMullen, who is in his seventh year in the position.
The City Council is tasked with hiring McMullen’s replacement, and Mayor Don Haddix said a wide net will be cast to find the next city manager using the same selection process that was used to hire Police Chief H.C. “Skip” Clark.
Under that process, an independent panel with no elected officials is used to select the top candidates, each of whom are later interviewed by council members. Following the interviews, council will convene in executive session to rank the finalists, and that scoring system will determine who the job will be offered to first, Haddix explained.
The positive of such a system is that it keeps politics out of the process and keeps the new hire from owing any favors to anyone on council, Haddix said.
McMullen’s separation agreement, which was approved on a 5-0 vote by the City Council after executive session Thursday night, includes four months of additional payments of salary and benefits following his Dec. 31 departure.
McMullen’s base salary alone, without considering the pay for benefits, brings that total to $46,443. The agreement also allows McMullen to be compensated for his accrued leave time as of the date of the separation agreement: Oct. 25.
In exchange for the compensation, McMullen agrees to not seek any legal action against the city and will assist in the transition to a new city manager, among other stipulations. The agreement also contains a non-disparagement clause that if violated could result in some of the separation payments being withheld as liquidated damages.
McMullen Friday emailed a thanks to all city employees for their hard work during his seven years at the helm, as he will be retiring effective Dec. 31.
The end of McMullen’s tenure with the city is marked by a dispute over his latest evaluation, which was conducted by Mayor Don Haddix in May and was critical of McMullen’s performance in a number of measures.
In a written rebuke of that May evaluation, McMullen said he felt the evaluation “is a libel attack by Mr. Haddix because of the fact that I have opposed him on issues such as the renovation of the police headquarters building in 2008. I challenged his unfounded claims and looked out for the citizens of Peachtree City.”
The city spent $800,000 to repair the police station on McMullen’s recommendation, instead of building a new one on a different location as Haddix suggested at a projected cost of $3 million or more.
Following Haddix’s critical review of McMullen in May, Councilwoman Vanessa Fleisch filed a glowing review of the city manager’s performance in late September. In that letter, Fleisch noted that the city charter requires the Mayor and City Council to conduct the review “and it is my impression that the written evaluation was completed prior to any kind of input by council which is not in keeping with the spirit of the city charter.”
However, the Thursday night vote to approve the terms of separation for McMullen was unanimous, with no dissenting votes.
Haddix declined to comment on any details of the evaluation or separation agreement based on a confidentiality clause contained in the separation agreement.
One notable issue in McMullen’s tenure was his June 2006 arrest for driving under the influence after driving a golf cart while holding a glass of wine in his hand as he drove up to two high-ranking officers following a concert at the city’s amphitheater. McMullen, who registered a .104 blood alcohol content on a breath test, above the state’s .08 BAC limit, later pled guilty to the charge in Fayette County State Court.
McMullen was sentenced to spend 24 hours in jail as required by Georgia law, an $800 fine, a year’s probation, 40 hours of community service and several other conditions such as a ban on alcohol consumption with random drug and alcohol screening.
Over the past several years McMullen has presided over deep cuts to the city’s budget as millions were scalped, necessitating the dismissal of some 23 city employees as the city switched to a landscape contractor to handling landscaping of city property including parks, medians and the like.
This year less drastic cuts were enacted as the City Council approved a 1.25 millage rate hike, meaning that some residents would pay more in property taxes this year, except for those whose property values declined such that it in effect cancelled out the tax rate increase that would have been assessed on such a property.
One of the more significant allegations in Haddix’s evaluation of McMullen was that McMullen was being forwarded blind carbon copies of emails the City Council received from citizens “without informing Council.”
McMullen, in response, said that is not the case, but his email address has been part of the group email address for “email@example.com” which automatically sends emails to all council members.
“Based on past experience this has enabled me to provide information and react directly to complaints from citizens if I realized that Council would not have the information to address the issue and provide answers, or it was an item that needed immediate action,” McMullen wrote.
McMullen also noted that based on the comments in his evaluation, he asked city staff to remove his email address from getting emails sent to the firstname.lastname@example.org address.
Haddix’s evaluation of McMullen listed four specific shortcomings, which were rebutted by McMullen including:
• A four-month delay in reaching agreements “with certain parties” about completing the paths to the MacDuff Parkway cart path tunnel; McMullen said the delay was clearly due to a lack of funding for the project as he cited a number of emails that were sent to that affect.
• Another delay in moving the city’s Welcome Center from its previous location at the city’s tennis center to its new space adjacent to the city amphitheater offices; McMullen said that was a false statement, indicating no such delay existed;
• Stating at a workshop that the city’s tennis center “was an asset that should not be considered for sale,” despite having said earlier at City Hall that “selling the tennis center was good for the city.” McMullen in his rebuttal denies ever making such comments, noting that he and Finance Director Paul Salvatore responded to then councilman Haddix’s questions about the tennis center in 2008 to say that the advantage to selling it would be a savings to the city of the $247,000 in loan payments the city is making.
• Haddix also claimed that McMullen said he had “no knowledge” of a city director requesting that the city’s Library Commission dissolve itself without consulting Council in advance. McMullen also denied this suggestion, saying he knew of the request from Leisure Services Director Randy Gaddo, which was backed up by emails on the topic.
In her letter on McMullen’s performance, Fleisch said she felt McMullen was always very approachable and accessible.
“He is always willing to give a straight answer to any question even if he knows we may not be in agreement on a certain issue,” Fleisch wrote.
Haddix’s May 19 appraisal of McMullen cited the following problems, among other issues:
• “Carrying out Mayoral and/or Council directives by giving instruction to department heads in a timely manner.”;
• “Notifying the Mayor and/or Council of any conflicts or problems in a timely manner.”;
• “Ensuring directives are carried out in a timely manner.”; and
• Placing items as directed by Council into the budget.
McMullen was hired in May 2003 by the City Council consisting of Mayor Steve Brown and council members Annie McMenamin, Steve Rapson, Dan Tennant and Murray Weed.