After initially debating whether to defer a request about the new position, Hamilton County commissioners decided to hire a director of property management with a salary of $110,397.
"There have been a lot of appointments made without consideration of this board," Commissioner David Sharpe, D-Red Bank, said during the panel's meeting Wednesday. "To me, it feels that there's a much larger issue at hand and one that deserves more consideration and some time around a table."
The commission spent about 45 minutes discussing the resolution.
"County government has been pretty stingy for a lot years, and here this past year, we've been spending a lot of money on the top line of our salaries, and that's something I think we maybe should look at a little more closely," Sharpe added later.
The vote was 7-2 with Sharpe voting no. Commissioner Warren Mackey, D-Lake Vista, did not vote yes or no, instead stating he did not have enough information about the job. His vote will be counted as a no. Commissioners Lee Helton, R-East Brainerd, and Chip Baker, R-Signal Mountain, were absent.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with the applicant," Sharpe said.
The new hire, Michael Kirk, spent about 14 years as chief operations officer at the Boyd-Buchanan School in Chattanooga, where he managed campus security, transportation and all facilities, maintenance, grounds and custodial services, according to his resume.
He was also a senior programmer analyst for 19 years at Olan Mills Inc. Before that, Kirk worked at the Tennessee Valley Authority for two years and spent four years in the U.S. Army.
Kirk will oversee county buildings and budgeting and determine space allocations for departments, according to a job description for the role. Among other responsibilities, he will be a go-to source of information for elected officials and staff on county facilities, monitor utility billing and determine effective renovations or replacements for buildings to boost energy efficiency.
His salary is in range with other directors across county government, County Mayor Weston Wamp's press secretary, Haley Burton, said in an email.
"One of the things I realized coming into office — this was a bit of a running joke among department heads — that nobody really wanted responsibility for county properties, and it, like many other things, fell on (Public Works Administrator Todd Leamon)," Wamp told commissioners Sept. 13. "That's the genesis of us exploring the full-time position."
Kirk is a proven and respected leader in the community who will bring a unique skill set to county government, Wamp said in a statement.
"Mike's experience managing projects and overseeing facilities will serve the taxpayers of Hamilton County well and will undoubtedly lead to cost savings," Wamp said. "With roughly 125 facilities maintained by the county and new facilities like the regional forensic center in our pipeline, this position is essential to the efficient day-to-day operations of county government."
The position was included in the budget commissioners approved in June, Wamp's office said.
Over the past year, commissioners and the mayor have at times grappled over the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches in Hamilton County government, particularly when Wamp attempted to fire County Attorney Rheubin Taylor last October. That effort failed, and the County Commission has since agreed to pay more than $200,000 in legal fees to resolve the dispute, most of that being for the mayor's office.
On Wednesday, Chair Jeff Eversole, R-Ooltewah, suggested tabling the resolution to hire Kirk for four weeks, sending it to the County Commission's health, human services and personnel committee. That panel consists of Sharpe, Helton and Commissioner Gene-o Shipley, R-Soddy-Daisy. Sharpe chairs the committee.
That would have given the board an opportunity to review the candidate, Eversole said, adding that he would like any new paid administrators to move through that committee.
"Being ambassadors for the taxpayer's money, it's our responsibility to ensure that we're putting not only the right candidate in the right position, but we're creating the right position that will move our county forward," Eversole said during the meeting. "It's not about removing responsibilities from the executive branch. It's about ensuring this board is doing its responsibilities."
Sending new positions to committee for review would represent a shift in how the county normally handles the hiring process, said Commissioner Greg Beck, D-North Brainerd, adding that he objects to the change.
Eversole said he wants the panel's committees to take a more active role in Hamilton County government. The request to defer the vote had nothing to do with Kirk, he said. He wants to ensure the board has an avenue to more thoroughly assess new positions if members object to them.
"We're setting a precedent for the future ... that we're involved in the decision-making and not just someone giving us a name that half know and the other half does not know," he said.
Although the commission did not follow this process Wednesday, Eversole does plan in the future to send new positions to the health, human services and personnel committee, he said in a phone call. Those members would meet with the applicant to ask questions, he said. The committees aren't designed to take power away from the mayor's office, Eversole said, but to support it.
"This is not about creating friction between the legislative branch and the executive branch," he said later.