Whether you agree with the Floyd Town Council’s desire to hire Lance Terpenny as the new town manager or not, Thursday night’s meeting — which drew about 50 interested citizens of the town and county, was democracy at work.
Council members took a rare and open step of explaining their position and their interview process to those attending. The seven citizens who spoke expressed their views calmly and the end result was a civil discussion on the issue.
Terpenny, told to resign last week by a Christiansburg Town Council that said it has lost confidence in their manager for the past 16 years, will almost certainly be confirmed when the Floyd council meets for a special session Monday night. He will become the Floyd’s fourth town manager in the past five years and the first with actual experience managing a town — going from the state’s third largest town (42,000 population) to one of the smallest (population 436).
When asked by one citizen if they asked Terpenny why he sought a job that was obviously a step backwards, the Floyd Council retreated into secrecy, saying it would not discuss specific answers in an interview.
Council members said they “vetted” Terpenny with members of the Christiansburg Town Council but did not say if there was any other form of background check on their new manager. Vice Mayor Mike Patton admitted he did receive a report that suggested Terpenny was too close to developers but insisted the town had made it clear that they would be in charge, not the new manager, and that they expected the manager to follow Floyd’s vision, not his or Christiansburg’s.
This report comes from talking with various attendees at Thursday’s meeting. I serve as Floyd County’s representative on the Alcohol Safety Action Program’s New River Valley advisory board and the board met in Christiansburg at the same time as the Floyd Town Meeting.
While in Christiansburg Thursday, I walked with several town officials, local businessmen and residents about their departing Town Manager. Most had strong opinions in both support and criticism.
There’s little doubt that Terpenny had become a polarizing town official in the last couple of years — much of it because of the town’s new Aquatic Center, a massive project marred by cost overruns and a controversial deal with Virginia Tech.
But opinions vary on whether that was Terpenny’s fault just as opinions vary on his abilities.
“We’re losing the best town manager in Virginia and you’re lucky to get him,” says Christiansburg Police Chief Mark Sission.
Christiansburg Town Council members say that while they lost confidence in Terpenny’s ability to continue to serve as their town manager, they believe he is an effective administrator.
Terpenney told the council he wasn’t happy in the job and that the pressures and controversies in Christiansburg were affecting him and his family.
Concilman Ernie Wade said the decision part ways was “mutual” and the “thing to do.” The Christiansburg council voted unanimously for Terpenny’s resignation.
“I hate it,” says councilman Mike Barber. “He’s a good man.”
One Christiansburg businessman, who asked not to be identified, said Terpenny became a “lightning rod” for numerous controversies.
“He was the point man on development issues, on the aquatic center, on traffic problems, on everything. He took the heat even for things that were beyond his control,” the businessman said. “He had been on the job for a long time, maybe too long.”
Municipal administrators, as a general rule, don’t last 14 years on the job. Terpanney’s length of service for one town is rare. Statistics compiled by the American Society of Public Administration shows the average town, city or county manager lasts about eight years.
Questions remain over Terpenny’s generous severance package that let him walk away from the job with a year’s salary and benefits but the decision to give him that package was the Christiansburg Town Council’s and it is up to the voters of that town to decide if it was the right decision or not.
Floyd citizens spoke their piece Thursday night and others can do so on Monday night — if they choose — before our town council votes to hire the new manager.
Terpenny takes a job that pays about $50,000 a year — far less than the $128,000 and change he received for the job in Chrisitansburg. In Christiansburg, it cost each resident of the town — men, women and children — $7.65 a year for a town manager.
In Floyd — at $50,000 a year — a town manager costs each of Floyd’s town residents $114.68 a year.
Some came away from Thursday’s town council meeting in Floyd feeling that their concerns had been addressed and answered. Others feel time will tell if the decision was the right one.
The bottom line is that residents of Floyd had a chance to air their concerns and ask questions. Those who did exercised their rights in a democracy.
That’s the way things are supposed to work.
I’m satisfied that the town council, for the most part, feels it did a good job in selecting a new town manager. I’m concerned that they not interview each of the 10 finalists for the job but stopped interviewing at four when they offered the job to Terpenny. From all accounts, Terpenny aced the interview and the council made up its mind and stopped looking once they talked with him.
But like it or not, the Floyd Town Council is the legislative body that represents the 436 residents of Floyd and its 120 registered voters. Those voters will decide in future elections if the council made a right or wrong decision.
Several of those who attended Thursday’s meeting tell me they are willing to “wait and see” and give the new town manager a chance to prove himself.
That’s the best course of action at this point. I’ve done my job here by raising issues for public discussion. If my concerns turn out to be wrong, I’ll be the first to say so here and admit I was wrong.
Floyd could benefit from someone with his experience if he adapts to Floyd’s way of thinking. Besides, he rides and customizes Harleys and that’s a strong point in his favor. In Christiansburg, fellow Harley riders call his garage the “Garage Mahal.” 🙂
I’ve done my job. The citizens of Floyd who took time to appear and speak Thursday night did theirs. On Monday, the Town Council will do its job. Then it will be time time to let Lance Terpenny do his.
(Updated at 8:30 a.m. to add additional information)