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Palmer appointed interim administrator

After heated debate, Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen appointed Associate Town Administrator Gary Palmer as interim Town administrator.

The motion to appoint Palmer to the post passed 3-2, with Mayor Eddy Ford and Vice Mayor J. Michael Haynes dissenting.

Ford opened the discussion by presenting the Board with four choices for the interim position: former Alderman Joel Gar-ber, Town engineer Darryl Smith, former Executive Director of Municipal Technical Advisory Service Robert P. “Bob” Schwartz and Palmer.

“Given our management turmoil, it does not seem the right thing to do to select a person we know to be aligned with either group,” Ford said.

“Our staff needs to be unified. I see no real possibility of that happening if we don’t select a new face,” he added.

“I guess I would not agree with the mayor … I think Mr. Palmer is the logical choice … Mr. Palmer is familiar with what has happened in the Town, the issues that need to be addressed,” Alderman Tom Rosseel said.

Alderman Dot LaMarche agreed: “I think we selected [Palmer] to come here as our associate town administrator, and from all the things that have occurred over the last couple of years, I don’t think he’s been given a fair opportunity to complete his duties.”

LaMarche said Palmer would “do everything he possibly could to bring the Town together as a team.”

Alderman John Williams said Palmer was hired “in anticipation that this sort of event might occur someday, and we would have someone who was familiar with the Town, who had worked with the Town and was capable.”

Rosseel moved to appoint Palmer, LaMarche seconded.

Ford listed several alleged incidents that led him to not support Palmer.

“Mr. Palmer came on the scene and we started having conflict,” Ford said, adding he feared Palmer would be “vindictive” should he be appointed.

Ford included in his list a harassment charge filed against Palmer, as well as Palmer’s alleged misuse of the Town credit card to purchase meals.

Finally, Ford said, “Mr. Palmer has been in charge of the Town for 10 days and has now issued an edict that we members of this Board are not to talk to other members of Town staff; we are to go through him.

“I certainly won’t adhere to that if you end up being interim Town administrator, you understand that?” Ford told Palmer.

Finally, Ford brought up Palmer’s complaint against the Town, in which he mentioned a possible lawsuit.

“I don’t see how we can appoint someone who has threatened the Town,” Ford said.

Rosseel said Ford’s points were “exaggerated beyond belief,” saying the harassment suit was for the conversational use of profanity, which was common among Town staff.

As for the meal charges, Rosseel said Palmer was “taking someone out to dinner … it’s part of his job, really, to interact.

“Having a meal is not outrageous whatsoever,” Rosseel said, adding when Board members participated in Town meetings, they also charged meals.

“The staff, I believe, is divided in their evaluation of Mr. Palmer just as this Board is,” Haynes said, adding he was contacted by anonymous staff members who were concerned about retribution from Palmer.

Haynes said he was not concerned about the complaint, but about Palmer’s language and attitude toward other employees, quoting a memo from Palmer that some Town employees did “‘as little as possible until 5 p.m. comes around.’

“I don’t think that’s the kind of attitude or paranoia we need,” Haynes said.

“In the interim, it makes sense that an independent person can come in and bring the temperature down and try to get people to work together,” he added.

“I don’t have any question there has been divisiveness within Town Hall,” Williams said, but disagreed that the cause is Palmer.

“My personal belief is that a lot of these issues have been present at Town Hall for more than a decade. My notion is they’ve probably been suppressed because the control of this Board has been in the same hands for so long; [staff] never felt they had a voice to express those issues because it would never matter.

“In the last few years, that sort of control on the Board no longer exists and [the staff] has found a kind of forum to express their discontent,” Williams said, adding [Dan] Olson’s health also contributed to a bad situation.

Finally, Williams agreed with LaMarche: “I’m not sure Mr. Palmer ever had an effective opportunity to show us what he can do.”


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