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City manager seriously looks at retirement

Friday, January 29, 2010

Lewisburg City Manager Eddie Fuller wants to retire next fall.

"I'll be 62 in October," Fuller said in his City Hall office on Wednesday morning.

Age 62 is when Americans first qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

"I want to leave on the 22nd and a new guy come in on the 25th," Fuller said. "I've gotten like Obama; all I want to keep is my Blackberry."

The city manager's retirement is "not set in stone, yet, but it wouldn't surprise me if there was something on the agenda in February or March," he said. "It takes time for someone to move and get settled in."

Fuller had told a number of city leaders and close associates at City Hall, but it wasn't widely known until Tuesday night during the City Council's discussion on the now-defunct Police Advisory Board. Councilman Ronald McRady referred to it while commenting on the now well-known 3-2 split on the Council.

That 3-2 split has been described as power politics, but in such close quarters it's recognized as the most difficult kind of politics. For example, former Tennessee House Speaker Ed Murray, then of Winchester, spoke of it after he succeeded Ned Ray McWherter. Being elected by your colleagues is an honor and happens in rarefied air, more so than as a result of general elections.

Acknowledging, "That's the nature of the job," Fuller conceded that the simple math of democracy - and therefore politics - will always be a factor in how towns are governed.

"I never liked the saying, but Mayor Bob Phillips used to say 'You don't have to be smart, but you do have to be able to count to three.'

"There has been political pressure in government," Fuller said. "That's part of it.

"Maybe I've been lucky that has not been too much in the past, but it has been there," he said. "On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the most: For a while it was two to three; In the '90s, it was five to seven; In the late '90s, during Phillips' time ... it went back down to two to three; And now it's probably seven to eight."

City Hall observers will remember: conflict regarding the arrest and release of an under-age drinker caught in a city park; the resulting state probe on whether there had been obstruction of justice; separate human rights complaints on equal treatment; promotion requests; an issue over whether plain clothes officers have a more prestigious job than uniformed officers; and, among other incidents, whether a sergeant falsified his work-time record.

"For 16 years, 95 percent of the problems are in the Police Department," Fuller said. "You can ask any city manager in Tennessee and that will be the problem."

There have been whispered allegations including one he calls a "big fat lie." It was told about three years into the job, now 13 years ago.

His predecessor, Eddie Derryberry, resigned in February of 1994. He suffered an injury at his home. Fuller had been assistant city manager and was named interim manager. There were "four or five applicants," including Wayne Coomes who later became police chief and who's been a member of the Police Advisory Board.

Fuller worked with the title of administrative assistant, but the job was, in effect, assistant city manager. Derryberry was the manager for approximately a decade.

The City Council will, presumably, issue a help-wanted ad for a successor. Advertisements could be in various logical newspapers, the Tennessee Municipal League's publication, which is Tennessee Town & City, and possibly other ways to announce an opening.

"I'm not recommending," Fuller said of the prospect of any comment on who might be his successor. "I'm staying way out of that."

Meanwhile, Mayor Barbara Woods has said she hopes to be able to persuade Fuller to stay on. Referring to Fuller's potential retirement, Councilman Hershel Davis said, "I'd hate to see that."

Asked if he would stay on with a vote of confidence, Fuller replied, "I think that would just bring more criticism."

Asked if a pay raise might be an incentive and an indication of the Council's confidence in him, Fuller pointed out that when the budget was being assembled "the year before last, with three percent raises for city employees, I didn't take a raise just to keep the criticism down."

Nearly 40 years ago, Fuller was looking toward the City of Lewisburg as a potential employer.

It was June of 1972 when he started working full time. He worked one summer job for the electric system in the building that's now police headquarters.

His first job was mapping pipes for the water and sewer department. It paid $2 an hour and he says he doesn't remember how old he was then.

After several years, he became a building inspector working for codes enforcement and he's maintained all the paperwork associated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Urban Development Action Grant program.

As Derryberry's administrative assistant, Fuller "did a little bit of everything," he said.

There is no assistant city manager at City Hall now and Fuller notes, "Sometimes, when you have an assistant, people think it's automatic that the assistant should get it" when the manager's job becomes vacant.

Meanwhile, Fuller says, "I've still got some more months to work."