By BILL PETERSON
BUDA – Strange goings on.
At a Feb. 13 meeting of the Buda City Council, Cathy Chilcote and Hutch White were the two councilmembers speaking forthrightly against picking someone from the existing city staff to run the administration while the council seeks a replacement for City Manager Robert Camareno.
Then came Feb. 19. Following an executive session lasting one hour and 58 minutes, Chilcote motioned for city finance director Sarah Mangham as the interim city manager, with White seconding. The motion carried by a unanimous vote.
Things aren’t always as they seem.
In the day following that vote, Chilcote and White both said they voted at once to display council unity and to approve a unique interim governing structure that will come more into light over the next few weeks. Until the city hires a permanent manager, the council is arranging to lean much more heavily on its contracted support once Camareno departs in two weeks.
In other words, Mangham is the interim city manager in name only. Once Camareno takes his new job with New Braunfels, according to councilmembers, former Hays County Judge Eddy Etheredge will become, in effect, the shadow city manager.
“I haven’t had that conversation with (Buda), yet,” Etheredge said, “but that’s what my boss told me.”
Etheredge, as a consultant with the city’s engineering firm of Lockwood Andrews & Newman (LAN), will make the administrative calls on key projects such as the Stagecoach Park, downtown beautification and the relocation of a lift station.
Councilmembers said long-time City Attorney Jim Duvall will handle personnel matters. The city is in position to spring more money, as needed, for planning director Ed Theriot, who works on a freelance basis. And Stanley Fees will maintain responsibility for engineering.
Chilcote’s motion included provisions that Mangham fulfill her new responsibilities for no more than 120 days at an increase of five percent over her hourly rate as finance director.
Asked to name her duties, Mangham said, “As the council wishes.”
Said Buda Mayor Pro Tem Bobby Lane, “That’s something that will be defined” in the next couple weeks.
However, councilmembers said Mangham will hold no authority for hiring, firing or discipline. In essence, her duties will boil down to relaying signals from the management team, which will administrate projects, and the city council, which sets policy.
“I’m grateful for Eddy Etheredge and LAN for coming on board as the head of our team management for the City of Buda,” Chilcote said.
The team management approach, combined with the unanimous council vote, defuses the matter of interim city management as a political issue while White and Lane run for mayor in the May election.
As it stood following the Feb. 13 meeting, the tie-breaking vote belonged to Lane because Chilcote and White both wanted to go outside for an interim city manager, while Councilmembers Sandra Tenorio and Tom Crouse wished to fill the role from within.
The political stakes for Lane under that scenario were rather heavy, since the outcome, for well or ill, would have been pinned to his vote. But when the council went to executive session and agreed to seek a unanimous vote, negotiations began for an agreeable interim arrangement.
“At some point, you just have to get along,” said White, whose campaign versus Lane has not been especially contentious.
Chilcote said she needed absolute assurances that “all projects under our jurisdiction would be team managed.”
Meanwhile, the city seeks a permanent city manager, choosing Waters-Oldani Executive Recruitment in a 3-2 vote over Johnson Associates at Tuesday’s meeting. Chilcote and White voted for Johnson, which helped the city find Camareno two and a half years ago. But Waters captured votes from Tenorio, Crouse and Lane. Councilmembers pointed out two advantages with Waters.
First, Waters spells out a two-year guarantee. If the city’s new manager is fired with cause within his first year, Waters will run the search for his replacement at no charge. If the new city manager is fired with cause in his second year, Waters will waive 50 percent of the cost to find his replacement.
Second, Waters promised a tighter time frame for presenting candidate interviews. Waters said the council could be interviewing candidates before the end of April.
Waters originally went to the city with a bid of $19,500 and a willingness to negotiate a maximum for expenses. The final bill is likely to come in around $25,000.
BILL PETERSON is editor of www.HaysHighway.com where this story was originally published. It is reprinted here through a news partnership with Newstreamz.com.