City manager shares exit strategy with EDC board

Gardner has sights set on stepping down in five years

By LYNETTE SOWELL

Cove Leader-Press

 

During a special workshop meeting on Wednesday morning that lasted nearly three hours, Copperas Cove’s Economic Development Corporation board of directors discussed and gave direction to  City Manager Andrea Gardner on a number of items that concerned EDC staffing, regular monthly meeting day, bylaws, legal representation, staffing and reimbursement agreement with the city for work done on behalf of the EDC, along with possibly changing the development strategy for The Narrows Business & Technology Park. The board also heard Gardner’s idea for her own exit strategy for retiring from being the city manager of Copperas Cove.

No formal vote was taken on any of the items, but Wednesday’s workshop simply served as a time of discussion and direction between the EDC board and Gardner. City Planner Charlotte Hitchman also participated in the discussion, where The Narrows was concerned.

According to Gardner, she plans to retire from her city manager position in five years. She also told the board she was interested in becoming the executive director of the EDC at that time.

“I am done with being city manager in five years,” she said.

Back in December 2016, the city council approved the designation of Parks & Recreation director Joe Brown as the deputy city manager. Brown was present for part of the workshop but did not participate in Wednesday’s discussion.

The discussion about this plan—which Gardner said she has also talked with city council members about—occurred during the workshop discussion on the city’s attempts to hire a new EDC executive director.

Gardner said the city has received numerous applications for the job, but many applicants do not have the level of economic development experience the city is looking for. She said they have also received a number of applications from those with chamber of commerce experience, but that economic development and chamber of commerce operations are not the same.

Another issue discussed was the fact that the present $100,000 salary cap likely isn’t quite enough to get the attention of the right, qualified candidate, especially a candidate who has experience with both EDCs and MDDs—municipal development districts, something the city council has been looking at as a possibility for economic development. This range of $100,000 is part of the EDC’s bylaws.

Gardner told the board three applicants had been selected for interviews, with one withdrawing likely due to travel and financial issues. Of the other two, one applicant had experience in Copperas Cove, but the experience wasn’t as strong in economic development as what the city was looking for. Regarding the other candidate, Gardner said there were “huge concerns” about items on the application, which when the candidate was asked about those items directly, didn’t offer a better response.

Prior to this discussion came Gardner’s idea, in which she proposed to transition from city management in the future to become EDC executive director. She described the council’s reaction.

“I didn’t receive any real feedback; actually, the feedback I did get was that they wanted time to ponder that. I’ve told the city council back in August that my intent is to retire in five years. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to continue to be a part of the community. That is an option for this board, if you would like to consider it,” Gardner told the board. “I would certainly suggest you might want to have a joint discussion. I don’t know what their wishes are in terms of that option.”

Over a two-year period, Garner would continue to train those two individuals the council has identified as possible city manager candidates, she said. She would “carve off a large chunk” of her city manager responsibilities to begin to focus on economic development corporation responsibilities during that time.

“If the (governing) body was happy and everybody agreed, then I would simply transition full time to that position and they would hire a new city manager,” Gardner said.

Board member Harald Weldon expressed concerns that if at the end of the five years, without this transition, Gardner could leave and take that experience with her.

“I’d hate to lose that,” Weldon said, adding he’d be concerned to have someone come in to that position from the “outside.”

During the more than 35 minutes of discussion concerning the EDC staffing, especially the position of executive director, the EDC board directed Gardner to continue the executive director search. The board, this time around, will also sit in on the interview process after a selection of more applicants has been made.

Gardner informed the board that currently there is only one employee on the payroll for the EDC, the director of business retention. In addition to the position of director, the EDC is also looking for an individual to handle the EDC’s finances. She suggested to the board that the EDC bring back the position of marketing specialist, and in the future—perhaps a year down the road—hire a public information officer, similar to that of the city.

The board came to a consensus that it would call for a joint workshop meeting with the city council as soon as possible this month so they could all discuss the staffing direction of the EDC along with Gardner’s proposed retirement and transition plan. Gardner’s proposed plan would be discussed in executive session.

The board additionally discussed amending the bylaws to streamline the process for signing checks as well as any real estate documents in the future, adding those permissions in the form of resolutions. It did agree to change the meeting date for regular meetings to the fourth Wednesday of the month at noon.

Legal representation of the EDC was another topic of discussion. Gardner told the board a request for proposals was advertised for legal representation for the EDC, with no RFPs received. Although Daniel Santee with DNRBHZ is the interim legal counsel for the EDC, he belongs to the same firm that the city’s attorney, Habib Erkan, belongs to. The firm can represent both the city and the EDC, so long as there are separate attorneys that do so. Gardner said the city does not have a contract with DNRBHZ for services, with the firm enlisted for its services at will. State law doesn’t require the EDC to conduct an RFP for legal services, but Gardner said in the interest of transparency, it is recommended. She said the board also has the option to select a legal firm on its own and bring that recommendation to Gardner.

The EDC board concurred that they would like to resolicit RFPs for legal services.

Wednesday morning’s workshop came on the heels of a brief special meeting of the EDC board on Monday, which was followed immediately by a special meeting of the Copperas Cove city council. Both groups approved the lease of the now-vacant EDC building by H-E-B, for that company to conduct job interviews for its new store in Killeen, set to open next month. The company is in the process of hiring 100 new employees. The city entities would have use of the building for its meetings, with the lease set to run from Jan. 31 through April 21.

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