Council interviews manager applicants

Friday, June 8, 2012

By Karen Hall

Staff Writer

The first of the applicants short-listed for the job of Lewisburg city manager was interviewed by councilmen Wednesday afternoon.

Tommy Engram of Cedartown, Ga. arrived the day before, he said, so that he could spend time exploring the city.

"I really appreciate the opportunity to meet with you," he told councilmen. Engram especially complemented Lewisburg on its Recreation Center and the walking trail along Rock Creek.

"You have some of the nicest amenities of any city this size," he said.

A primary drawback Engram noticed was expressed in statistics. In 2000, the mean annual household income in Lewisburg was $31,000 and in 2010 it was $41,000, while the state of Tennessee as a whole went from $36,000 to $59,000 in the same period.

"You're getting a higher and higher percentage of people who make a low income," Engram said. "It drives out the people with higher incomes."

He had done a lot of research, both on individual councilmen and the town as a whole.

"What do you think you would bring to the job?" asked Mayor Barbara Woods.

"Depth of knowledge and experience," Engram replied. "I'm used to running organizations. That's what I do. Most people my age (65) are not looking for another 10-year career, but I intend to be living a productive life. I'm five years younger than Reagan was when he was sworn in as president." Engram said he would want the full $80,000 per year councilmen were prepared to pay, but added that he didn't need health insurance, and would only need a car allowance, not a car.

Engram worked for BellSouth for years, and said he had no problem with being on call 24/7.

"I've been in any kind of emergency situation you can imagine," he said.

Engram said, "I'm not a desk driver," explaining he liked to spend at least 40 percent of his time outside the office, observing work going on around the town.

"Frontline supervision is what keeps the wheels turning," he said.

If he were city manager, Engram said, he would be developing "meaningful performance measures" for all departments in order to evaluate whether the city was getting the best value for its money. If he had his way, Engram said, employees wouldn't get across-the-board raises, they would get individual raises based on productivity. He admitted it was hard to get a council to agree to this.

Engram warned against a manager getting too involved with the day-to-day work and missing the big picture. He said councilmen would have to clearly articulate the needs of the city, formulate their vision for the future, and then rely on their city manager to achieve the vision.

"When the leaders lack vision, the people perish," Engram said in a Biblical reference.

He expressed a willingness to do whatever needed to be done, from firing employees to refusing to do what was wrong.

Even in the privacy of his office, "I would never do anything that I would not do with a reporter sitting there," Engram stated.

When asked how long he would stay, if given the job, Engram pointed out that the average city manager's tenure is 3.1 years, and said this was "not necessarily a bad thing," but that he would like to stay for 10 years, and start as soon as possible if he were hired.

"We appreciate you being so well prepared," Woods said at the end of the interview.

Charles Beal and George Hayfield were interviewed Thursday afternoon.

Mark Tyner turned down the invitation because he's already making $82,500 in his current job as a county manager in Alabama and did not want to take a cut in pay, according to city recorder Brenda Brewer.