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Farragut Smoak‘in’

Farragut’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to hire a new Town administrator Friday, Dec. 11.

Dave Smoak, assistant town manager in Collierville pictured right, was unanimously elected after a day of interviews with other candidates, including Interim Town Administrator Gary Palmer.

Palmer and Smoak ranked the highest from panel input after the interviews were over.

“What impressed me is that Mr. Palmer was battle-tested through fire. … A lesser person would have bailed out of here,” Alderman Jeff Elliott said.

“I’ve not heard a complaint yet about the guy,” he added.

Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche agreed, in principle.

“I don’t think Gary was ever given a fair chance. … But on the other hand, maybe we need new blood.

“This is a hard decision to make,” she said.

The interview panels, consisting of Town department heads and the personnel committee, awarded Smoak a lengthy list of positive attributes, including a sense of being “well-rounded,” his “financial experience,” “presence,” and one thought of “he has been where the town of Farragut wants to go.”

His only setback?

Lack of senior-level experience.

On the con side, Palmer was perceived as perhaps lacking people skills, lacking appropriate financial experience and lacking senior level experience.

But he also was seen as being the candidate in best position to quickly implement changes to already identified issues, and as being “very proactive.”

Mayor Ralph McGill acknowledged Palmer’s service as interim Town administrator the past nine months.

“I think he’s made some great decisions,” he said. But McGill ranked Palmer second in order of preference.

“I’d like to see them both here,” he said of Palmer and Smoak.

Alderman Bob Markli pointed out that if Smoak were hired as administrator, Palmer would be welcome to stay in the position he was originally hired for: associate administrator.

“He really deserves a chance to rise to the job he was hired to do,” Markli said.

Alderman John Williams expressed doubts Palmer would stay if Smoak were hired, but Melanie Purcell, Municipal Technical Advisory Service, said Palmer would have no reason to leave.

Plus, she said, the market for jobs was slim now, and Palmer might not be able to find another job.

Williams called the decision “agonizing,” expressing hesitation to bring in Smoak when Palmer already was at the Town.

“We have a lot of balls in the air, and I’d like to keep them going,” Elliott said.

Elliott added he had served as an interim once, and said the position required all of a job’s responsibility with none of the authority.

“You wear the hat, but you don’t really wear the hat. … I’m impressed by what I’ve seen [of Palmer’s work] to date,” he said.

Elliott said the Town’s former administrator, Dan Olson, was nearly invisible, and he would like to see the next Town administrator take a role of leadership.

He doubted Smoak’s ability to make tough decisions.

Markli urged other Board members not to make a decision on sentiment, but on facts.

He said Smoak’s perceived people skills were “more in tune with the kinder, gentler government I feel we’re trying to portray.”

Williams said he believed Palmer’s perceived lack of people skills was a cultural issue: Smoak is southern; Palmer is not.

Williams said he was weighing Smoak’s “novel experience” with “someone who can do the job and do it well.”

Markli moved to hire Smoak; Williams seconded. The motion was unanimously approved in a roll call vote.

The Board authorized the mayor to begin negotiations with Smoak.

Palmer was hired as associate Town administrator in 2006. He remains in that position.


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