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On Board with Dave Smoak

At its meeting Thursday, Jan. 14, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved prospective Town administrator Dave Smoak’s employment contract.

Smoak is set to begin work Feb. 8.

In an interview with the Board of Mayor and Aldermen Friday, Dec. 11, Smoak said his first 90 days as an employee would be spent defining Board priorities.

“I think it’s important for me to get with each Board member and find out what your priorities are,” he said.

Also in those first 90 days, Smoak said it was “crucial for me to get ingrained in each department,” since he would be a stranger to the organization coming in.

He also would provide weekly updates to the Board on situations within the Town.

“No matter what the issue is, I’m going to give you my honest opinion,” Smoak said.

He also said he would communicate with the staff the same way, largely through department heads.

Evaluations of staff would be done informally throughout the year, Smoak said, so by the time performance evaluations roll around, “they should already know where they stand.”

As for feedback on his own performance, Smoak said he knew Town employees likely would be talking to Board members about him anyway, as would others in the community.

“That’s where, I’m sure, you’re going to get your feedback,” Smoak said.

Alderman Bob Markli asked if that translated into a “fairly fluid relationship between staff, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen and yourself?”

Smoak was quick to say that system applied only in regards to feedback.

For decisions, policy would be dictated by the Board, which would inform Smoak, who would inform the department heads, who would inform the staff.

“That’s critical,” Smoak said.

Alderman Jeff Elliott asked Smoak what he would consider “meddling” by Board members among Town staff.

Smoak gave an example of an alderman encouraging Town staff to let a development “get through the process … basically saying, ‘Don’t give them a hard time.’”

“The staff can get in a tough situation.

“Communication is key. We need to converse and talk to each other openly and honestly,” Smoak added.

Mayor Ralph McGill asked Smoak what he would consider a good team.

“It’s great leadership at the top. It starts with a vision of where you want to go,” Smoak said.

His job, as administrator, would be to ensure the staff implements policy the Board sets.

“As long as everyone understands that, I think it’s a good team,” he said.

Markli asked what Smoak would do if a staff person did not abide by the wishes of the Board.

“If you have an entrenched, entrancing, strong-willed, clever employee out there somewhere on the staff who is just not going to get on board, they’ve got their way of doing things, how are you going to deal with that?” Markli asked.

“Maybe they’re doing a really good job, they’re really good at their job, but they’re not doing what our collective vision is,” he added.

Smoak said employees could be good at their jobs and still have wrong attitudes.

“It’s not just about the work you do, it’s about how you do it,” he said.

“You don’t want to be just a good organization; I think you want to be the greatest city in East Tennessee. … People can hold you back sometimes, in key positions especially,” he added.

But, he said, he would give employees “all the chances they can get … to turn the corner.”

McGill asked Smoak if he was familiar with Farragut’s strict ordinances.

Smoak said Collierville probably had stricter design standards.

“When you drive into Farragut, you should know something is different,” Smoak said of adhering to those standards.

“And the second part of that is having the standards and not apologizing for your ordinances,” he added.

Several members of the Board said developers and business owners frequently complained about the standards in Farragut.

Smoak said, most likely, those complaints were targeted more at the people or the process more than the actual codes.

In Collierville, the enforcement staff undergoes customer service training, Smoak said.

“They can go up to somebody and tell them, ‘No,’ in a nice way,” he added.

Vice Mayor Dot LaMarche asked Smoak for suggestions on branding the Town.

Smoak told the Board to focus on what was unique about Farragut, and then on finding a central place for community involvement.

“You’re going to be there before you know it,” he said.


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