Tri-City Ledger -

By Gretchen McPherson
Ledger Staff 

Council votes 4 to 1 on new interim city manager


November 21, 2019

In a vote of 4 to 1, the Century Council approved hiring Vernon Prather as Interim City Manager, as current Interim City Manager Edwin “Buz” Eddy has fulfilled his obligations to the town.

Even though Prather does not have a four-year degree, his skills and experience, according to Eddy, make him the most qualified for the position.

“I don't know anyone else in this area who can walk through a waste water treatment plant and see the kinds of issues that need to be addressed,” said Eddy. “He works with Heath and the staff to make the adjustments that need to be made. There just needs to be one more senior set of eyes to work with Heath to understand the intricacies of running that waste water treatment plan in the face of all the other things that need to be done.”

Mayor Henry Hawkins pointed out that current Water and Wastewater Superintendent Heath Burkett has not been able to take a vacation or have time off because of the state of the plant.

“Prather brings a lot to the table,” said Hawkins. “Right now, if something happened to Heath, we are up the creek. Prather can give heath that breath of fresh air so he can take off. He is stuck here. The wastewater requires someone to be here checking in every day to check these things.”

Eddy said that Prather ran the wastewater treatment facilities on Pensacola Beach in the 80's and early 90's. Then the City of Gulf Breeze hired him to run South Santa Rosa Utility Systems through the 90's. He then became Director of Public Works and then Assistant City Manager for the City of Gulf Breeze.

“There is no one else in Escambia County or Santa Rosa County who knows utilities like Prather does,” said Eddy. “He served on the Molino Utility Board, he was on the Board for the Island Authority, he's seen how utility systems operate, he helped with budgets in the City of Gulf Breeze. He brings sort of a Swiss Army knife set of capabilities to this position, which I don't have.”

Councilman James Smith spoke up and noted that Prather just recently retired, saying it doesn't make sense to him.

“It's mighty strange that he decided to do it, in such a short period of time, he wants to take it on,” said Smith. “That doesn't sit well with me. It doesn't make sense.”

Smith pointed out that the pay would be more than $100,000 the town can’t afford and suggested making the mayor full-time and make him or her do what he or she is supposed to be doing.

Eddy explained that Prather retired because of limited benefits at his age and having time in the Florida government retirement system.

“There's a lot of police officers and correctional officers who retire when they reach the max on their retirement, but they go back and find another job,” said Eddy. “For Prather, he's 59, he's looking to not be totally retired, but for him to stay in a Florida state retirement position wasn't really doing him any good. But he still wants to be challenged and utilities are his passion.”

Eddy said when he was a city manager, he wound up turning plans over to somebody like Prather stating he did not have that expertise. He said Prather was a better fit for the town of Century because he knows how manage contractors, engineers and how to work with those who run the utility systems.

There were four other applicants who applied for the city manager job in Century but he believes the town will benefit better from Prather's skills and experience.

“I'm done being interim city manager,” said Eddy. “I agreed to get you to this point, and I am making this recommendation that the best thing for Century is Prather.”

Eddy said he thought the town should keep Prather as a contractor and that he will receive his benefits from other sources. He said having a city administrator will help the town get grants and help them look for opportunities to save money that it would not have otherwise.

Eddy said knowing now what he knows about Century's issues, he would've advertised for a utility operator who also has city management experience, like Prather.

Discussion about making Prather interim city manager for a year came up, and the mayor pointed out that to bring someone else in would be unfair to them to uproot them for just a year.

“So what I'm understanding for our job tonight is to accept Prather on a temporary basis to complete the work that we started because we've got grants in the pipeline and then we are still waiting on the charter committee,” said Councilman Luis Gomez. “Because if they don't put it in there, we're not going to have a city manager anyway.”

Councilman Ben Boutwell explained that Prather would be the interim and when and if the town wants a permanent city manager, they will advertise again and get more applicants.

Council president Ann Brooks then called for a vote.

“You're not going to interrupt me while I'm talking. What I'm telling you is I don't think the way it is being done is handled properly,” said Smith. “I don't care if you don't like it. I'm going to voice my opinion if you like it or not. Period or point blank. Is that understood? You're not going to interrupt me while I'm saying something. Let's make that abundantly clear.”

An audience member asked why the council didn’t advertise for an interim city manager, to which Eddy answered there wasn't time, and said that if the council decided to do that, it would be without his assistance.

Eddy pointed out that he was a city manager in two cities for 30 years and he still needed a Robert Hudson and a Vernon Prather.

Councilwoman Sandra McMurray Jackson told council members that putting someone in a position who they know is qualified from within and not advertising is a better transition.

The council voted yes, except for Councilman Smith, who voted no.


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