Boundaries, borders and city managers

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 04:46 PM

“I don’t want to talk to that damn Yankee.”

Shortly after I became General Manager of The Daily Journal in Rockingham, N.C. in 1989, a subscriber visiting the newspaper’s office expressed that sentiment when asked if he would like to speak with me about a change in the newspaper.

I recalled that incident after receiving a phone call asking if I knew the ethnicity of John D’Agostino, Monroe’s newly hired city manager.

As reported in Wednesday’s edition of The Enquirer-Journal, D’Agostino’s last four positions have been with communities in Massachusetts. His education was received at schools up North. D’Agostino clearly qualifies as a Yankee, something perhaps controversial to some in our Southern city.

Hiring a new city manager has been a contentious process starting with the resignation of Monroe’s previous city manager, Wayne Herron, last July under questionable circumstances and continuing to D’Agostino’s hire.

Herron’s resignation was followed by a $50,000 study purportedly to determine the cause for frequent turnover in city managers. 

The study itself was rife with controversy from the selection of the law firm which did the study — Parker, Poe and Bernstein, its whopping cost and real purpose to its findings about the relationships between the city council and former city managers.

The city council was unable to hire from the first round of candidates. That wasn’t particularly unexpected given the study’s conclusions, which weren’t new to anyone who has observed City Hall. Add the conflict among members of the city council along with an upcoming election in which the hiring majority on the council could be ousted and it was even less surprising.

D’Agostino was hired from a second round of candidates presented by a firm paid $21,500 to conduct a nation-wide search. He comes with some baggage including the nonrenewal of his contract in his last position with Abington, Mass. In Mansfield, Mass. he was involved in a whistle blower suit and was the target of a sexual harassment claim.

However, D’Agostino claims some impressive achievements in more than 31 years of government work. Not the least of those is that his experience includes 12 years as city manager in Mansfield. A city manager able to accomplish that length of time here would be a welcome change, if that tenure comes with significant success.

To be successful, D’Agostino will need to exert clear structure between the city manager’s office and the city council. That includes being a city manager with the intestinal fortitude to assert responsibility for decisions about key personnel rather than being a hatchet man for the city council’s majority.

As their own study indicated, members of city council — both factions of the current council included — must recognize that their role is to set policy and then let D’Agostino and his staff implement that policy without interference. 

If city council does so, perhaps D’Agostino will achieve much and thus be here long enough to be called not just a “Yankee” but a “damn Yankee,” one who comes and stays, bless his heart. 

Marvin Enderle is the publisher of The Enquirer-Journal.