East Spencer administrator has new title, stronger role

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2022

EAST SPENCER — As of Monday night about 7 p.m., East Spencer no longer has a town administrator; instead they have a full-fledged town manager, and Michael Douglas could not be happier.

Douglas has been the town administrator for several years, but acknowledges he and the board of aldermen have been inching ever closer to running as a manager/council form of government all along. Monday night, the board made that transition formal, voting unanimously to transfer from a simple mayor/council government to a manager/council format.

“I am completely excited for the town,” Douglas said. “We are now coming into the fold of the majority of towns across the state and the country.”

When the mayor and council alone manage a town or city, they are in charge of every decision, from financial to personnel to development and everything in between. All contracts, negotiations, plans, etc. must go before the council.

Under the manager/council format, the council or board still must approve an annual budget and any and all policy changes, but the manager then takes the approved budget and the policies and handles the individual finance pieces (or, eventually, a finance director is hired to handle that part, when a community grows large enough to merit it), and the manager implements the policies the council has adopted.

Douglas pointed out the town has seen tremendous growth in recent years — development alone has gone through the roof, from one or two houses a year over the last 20 years to now having two separate developments of 60 and more than 100 homes.

“We paid off a fire truck, that was more than $300,000, and still have a substantial fund balance,” he said. “In fact, for the first time our fund balance was over $1 million.” The town has increased staff with both public works and parks and recreation, and staff members have received raises to bring salaries more in line with surrounding towns. Homeowners are now able to apply for grants through a Homeowners’ Rehabilitation Fund. And developers, including residential, commercial and industrial, are calling and showing interest in the land in the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction or ETJ.

“And when those folks call, they don’t want to wait 30 days for me to take a proposal to the board so they can review it, they want a response quickly, or they will move on,” said Douglas.

“Of course I am still required to keep the board apprised of all that is going on, and I cannot spend any money not authorized in the budget without their approval,” he said. “But once the funds are in the budget and in a particular category, I have the leeway to work with it without going back to them every single time.”

Each month, Douglas has held a “Meet the Administrator” event at town hall, and it is an open forum for residents to come in and “talk about anything,” says Douglas. “Now it’s going to be Meet the Manager, but it is a conversational thing, not formal, and I hope that anyone who might have questions about how the government works and what this change means will come in and ask me.”