Villa Rica manager expected to be removed Thursday

David Milliron

Villa Rica City Manager David Milliron has been placed on administrative leave and indications are that his contract with the city will be terminated on Thursday at a special called meeting of the City Council.

In the meantime, Police Chief Michael Mansour, Mayor Jeff Reese and Chief Financial Officer Sarah Hefty will direct the city's administration.

Reese announced Milliron's leave to city staff during a Monday morning meeting. When contacted later, Reese said Milliron remains on the city payroll until his status is determined at the Thursday meeting.

That public meeting has been scheduled for 3 p.m. Thursday at the Holt-Bishop Justice Center, 101 Main St. The only agenda item before the City Council is "consideration of severance agreement with City Manager and other related matters."

The exact circumstances surrounding Milliron's sudden departure were not clear on Monday. When contacted, Reese explained that the council "felt like this was the right move to make, and the overwhelming majority felt like there needed to be a new direction."

It was not known, however, when the council had made that determination, or in what forum. During the council's regular meeting on Feb. 7, several issues involving Milliron were apparently discussed during a one-hour, 11-minute closed session, which took place at the end of the meeting and without Milliron present. When the session ended, it was announced that the council had taken no action.

Earlier in that Feb. 7 meeting, there had been protracted discussion on the quality of paving work currently underway in the city, particularly the resurfacing of South Carroll Road. Milliron was asked to explain in detail the billing process for that work, which several residents and council members described as substandard. Ward 4 Councilman Gil McDougal led that discussion and it was he who had earlier asked that the executive session be added to the council's agenda. Executive sessions are closed to the public.

But Reese said there had been no specific incident that had triggered Milliron's departure.

"I don't think that any particular issue has caused this to happen," he said. "A city manager serves at the leisure of the council, and any time that city manager loses (the council), then that city council certainly has the right to change directions and choose a new city manager. I don't think it's any one thing in particular; it's just the council felt this was the time to part ways and move in a different direction."

For his part, Reese praised Milliron's abilities and contributions to the city, saying he "was by far the most knowledgeable city manager" he had seen during his connection with the city.

"We appreciate his services and everything he did; he did things for the city which moved us forward, and I think I would be remiss if I didn't mention that."

But Milliron was evidently not popular with Reese's predecessor, J. Collins, who sought to oust Milliron at a May 4 council meeting -- a move Milliron survived when the council unanimously voted to rehire him for another 12 months.

At the time, Collins said he disagreed with Milliron's "managerial style" and said Milliron "needs to work on his people skills." Yet Collins also said he appreciated many of the changes implemented by Milliron.

There have since been some conflicts between Milliron and council members, including disagreements over his involvement in a dispute between the city and Norfolk Southern Railway involving the city's downtown railroad park, and the complicated negotiations with the First Baptist Church of Villa Rica over saving the historic Hart House.

None of those disputes, however, resulted in any public rebuke or criticism by council members during meetings or work sessions.

Yet during debate last month over the city's 2017 budget, the council balked at a proposal that a full-time assistant be hired for Milliron, who told the panel that he often worked 60 hours per week on city business. The council also rebuffed his requests for new administrative staff for the police department and the public library.

The job of city manager, as the name implies, involves running the city on a day-to-day basis. A city manager form of government, such as the one provided for by Villa Rica's city charter, allocates those duties to the manager, as opposed to the city's mayor, who retains executive power. The council, which the mayor leads, has the legislative role of passing ordinances and endorsing administrative recommendations.

Villa Rica's city charter is currently being reviewed to make updates necessary to make the city's foundational governing document current with state law. During several meetings last summer, much of the focus of public commentary was over the role of the city manager in governmental affairs.

A draft for the new charter has been prepared and is ready to be submitted to the state Legislature for approval. That's a job that Villa Rica's council was expected to take up this year once the posts of mayor and Ward 4 council member were filled by election; posts that had remained vacant during the public debate on the charter. With the current session of the General Assembly well under way, it is considered unlikely that the new charter, as currently drafted, could be approved before the Legislature adjourns.

City Attorney David Mecklin said Monday that he had been in talks with Milliron to prepare a severance package to be presented to the council on Thursday.

Under terms of Milliron's current contract, the one approved at the May 4 council meeting, if his employment is terminated "without cause," then he would be paid for either the balance of the contract, or for a period of six months, whichever is the longest. Milliron's salary, as set last year, is $107,000.

According to city records, Milliron is the seventh city manager to serve the city in the past decade.

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