City Manager asks for assistant

By Nikki Blankenship - [email protected]

Portsmouth City Council does not seem likely to approve the hiring of an assistant for City Manager Derek Allen.

During Monday’s meeting of the Portsmouth City Council, an ordinance that would authorize adding an assistant to the City Manager position was given a second reading; however, three members of Council showed their disapproval of the item of legislation.

The ordinance would authorize City Manager Derek Allen to create the position with a pay range of $23,251-$38,829 and further authorize Allen to hire an individual to fill the position.

City Councilman Kevin W. Johnson explained that when hiring a City Manager, Council had made the promise to provide the resources needed by the City Manager so long as the City could afford to do so. He also added that multiple people have expressed that Allen does not return their calls. Johnson further stated that he has been in the City Manager’s office and sees how many people come in and how many people call in. At the same time, he looks at the City Manager’s report each month.

“I’m wondering how any one person can accomplish that by himself,” Johnson stated.

Councilwoman Jo Ann Aeh continued to express her lack of support for the new position. When the item went for a first reading, Aeh explained that Allen had informed Council that the new position was needed in order to have someone to assist with pursuing property related insurance claims for damages to City property. She added that such responsibility should be the role of the insurance agent. Aeh also added that claims have been coming down each year and that Allen already has an assistant and makes use of the Community Development Director who handles some of his secretarial work. Aeh stressed that if the City has the money to hire another person, there are other departments in greater need.

“The position he is wanting to create and fill, I’m not seeing a purpose for,” Aeh continued to stress on Monday night.

Councilman Gene Meadows, who was absent from Monday’s meeting, had expressed during the item’s first reading that he had concerns over creating a new position based upon a previous statement made by Allen. Allen making a statement that he already had a person in mind for the position. Meadows explained that though he has no complaints with hiring an assistant, he thinks the position should be advertised and the best person should be hired.

“I’m afraid if you already have one person picked out, there is no hiring procedure,” he stated to Allen in the previous meeting.

Councilman Tom Lowe had not been present for the first reading but expressed a similar opinion when the item went for a second reading Monday.

The new position was originally introduced to Council on July 24 during the City Manager’s Conference. It was then approved to be added to the Council agenda for a first reading on Aug. 14.

“What I found is during the July 24 Conference Agenda meeting, he (Allen) talked about how he already had somebody in mind. I think that’s circumventing the equal opportunity laws, and I have a problem with it,” Lowe stated. “I also have a problem whenever you can only find it on the audio. There’s no mention of the conversation in the minutes, and that’s going to have to get amended eventually. We need a position in other places.”

He further encouraged residents to start comparing audio from meetings to meeting minutes, both of which are online for Council meetings and City Manager’s Conference meetings. Lowe explained that the hiring of an assistant discussion that was part of the July 24 Conference meeting lasted approximately 12 minutes long; meanwhile, very little was explained in the minutes.

According to Aeh, who worked as the City Clerk for 24 years and thus was responsible for keeping the minutes stated that when she was clerk, the State had advised her that the minutes should be kept in such a manner that 50 years from now people could look at the minutes and understand the thought process that went into the way Council voted.

The City Manager’s Conference meeting minutes for July 24 state, “Manager Allen said that when he was hired the city had financial constraints and not all of the positions were filled in his office. He requested to hire an assistant which would help him dramatically. The applicant would need to have a college degree in Public Administration. Councilman Kevin W. Johnson motioned to accept Alternative No. 1. There were no further questions or comments: VOTE: 6 Ayes – 1 Nays (J. Aeh).”

Though the minutes begin with the statements from Allen regarding his need, there were several other questions and comments.

“When I came here, because of the financial constraints, I did not fully fill all of the positions that were in my office,” Allen began during the July meeting, per the recording on the City’s website. “ I’m requesting to hire a personal assistant.”

Allen stated that prior to his hiring, there was a human resources assistant and an administrative assistant. Allen asked that he does not have time to visually inspect work or complaints or follow through on many items. He further stated that it would be good for him if the City would approve hiring a person with a college degree and some experience.

“We do have someone that recently graduated college and is looking for a job,” Allen commented. “Of course, we would advertise and go through the process but I do have someone in mind that I think would be a good person in an entry level position.”

Allen informed Council that the new position would result in a total expenditure of approximately $51,000 per year.

Following, Kalb stated that based upon the information provided by Allen, costs to the City would include a single person insurance policy.

To which Allen stated, “Because I’ve got someone, a young college kid.”

Aeh commented at that time that she was against the hiring and also asked what kind of degree would the person need to have. She further added that Allen’s information was misleading based on the fact that the two assistant positions Allen had mentioned were part time and did not get benefits. Furthermore, the City was under the mayoral form of government, paying a mayor $50,000 a year – significantly less than the salary paid to the City Manager.

During that discussion, Lowe had also stressed that this seemed to be going against equal opportunity laws. Kevin E. Johnson had also addressed concerns over pay range at that meeting. And, Kevin W. Johnson again stressed his support. In fact, every member of Council had asked questions, addressed concerns and made comments on the matter.

During Monday’s meeting, Councilman Kevin E. Johnson expressed that while he approves the hiring of an assistant for the City Manager, he was still concerned about the pay range. He asked that Allen reiterate what had already been said at a prior meeting, which was that the position would not pay more than the position for Allen’s current assistant. Allen agreed, stating the position would not pay more than his current assistant is paid at just over $31,000.

Mayor Jim Kalb stated that he thought the position may better serve the City in another department and asked that the item be revisited.

The item will go for a three reading, when it will either pass or fail at the next Council meeting.

During the City Clerk’s report, Clerk Diana Ratliff explained that she has been working to get audio from Council and Conference meetings online and has managed to do so for meetings back to 2016. She further added that the audio recorders are taking up a lot of space on the City’s server.

Portsmouth City Council meets at 6 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of each month in Council Chambers on the second floor of the Municipal Building on Second Street in Portsmouth. The City Manager’s Conference follows when the Council meeting adjourns. Meeting agendas, minutes and audio can be found on the City’s website at by visiting the City Council and City Manager’s pages.

By Nikki Blankenship

[email protected]

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.

Reach Nikki Blankenship at 740-353-3101 ext. 1931.