East Spencer public silent on proposed government change

Published 12:10 am Tuesday, May 24, 2022

By Elisabeth Strillacci

EAST SPENCER — Members of the community had a chance to put their two cents in Monday night on the town’s proposed change from a mayor/council form of government to a town manager/mayor and council form — but no one from the public showed up.

Members of the Board of Aldermen have previously been able to ask Town Administrator Michael Douglas any questions, and members have been somewhat divided on approving the change. A formal vote is expected at the board’s regular meeting June 6.

The town is currently under the management of the mayor and the board, but as the community has grown, the need for professional management has become more and more clear. The town hired Douglas after a series of individuals had filled, then vacated, the post. Douglas was hired in June  of 2021, after James Bennett left the role in February 2021 after being hired in October 2019. Before Bennett, Conrad assumed the position in April 2019 from F.E. Isenhour, who had served since 2016. Preceding Isenhour was David Jaynes as well as Macon Sammons Jr., who stepped down in 2015. In the gap between Bennett’s departure and Douglas’ hiring, Phil Conrad, director of the Cabarrus-Rowan Metropolitan Planning Organization, served in an informal interim role.

If the board approves the change, Douglas would become the presumptive town manager. Under the manager/council form of government, the board returns to a legislative role, setting policies and approving overarching budgets, while the manager essentially becomes chief operating officer, managing the day to day business of the town. The manager would not be able to spend any monies not already approved under the budget without board approval, but he or she would not need to get the board’s approval on each piece of daily business, something Douglas has said would make it easier on both the board and him.

“It would mean I don’t have to call and ask for a meeting every single time I need to take action,” he said, “but it is not a matter of my making any policy or budget decisions. That would absolutely still be up to the board.”

Mayor Barbara Mallett and Mayor Pro Tem Shawn Rush have previously expressed their desire to make the transition to the manager/council format. Some board members have said they want to be sure Douglas will keep them fully informed on activities in the town, such as increasing development, should the change be approved, and Mallett reiterated there would need to be strong communication between Douglas and board members.