The Mount Airy Town Council has amended the town’s charter to give the mayor more authority to hire some full-time employees.
During a meeting Monday, the council unanimously voted on a resolution, introduced in August, which gives Mayor Patrick Rockinberg the power to hire part-time and full-time, non-managerial employees without the consent of the five-member council.
Previously, the mayor needed the consent of the council to hire most officers and town employees, causing the process to becoming ineffective and outdated, according to town officials. Before Monday night, the mayor could hire only the council secretary, town clerk, part-time employees, and interns without getting the council’s consent first.
“I think that the preponderance of evidence shows that does not work,” Councilman Chris Everich said.
But the council did not give the mayor full authority to hire. Candidates for full-time managerial positions are still required to be approved by the council.
Language giving the council the ability to consider candidates in the event of a reorganization of town employees also was added to the resolution before the vote at the request of Councilman David Blais.
“My concern is ... we are now giving a lot of power to the executive branch,” he said. “You just opened a Pandora’s box.”
Blais said the town has reorganized employees twice in the three years he has been on the council.
Under the town charter, the council can cut positions out of the budget if there’s a reorganization, Everich said.
“We’re really going off the rails on this,” he said. “We can probably sit here and come up with any number of scenarios and games that the executive branch could play ....”
The resolution was changed to require those promoted by appointment, hiring or reorganization to managerial positions, excluding the council secretary and town clerk, to be examined by the council.
The mayor’s powers to hire and dismiss town workers have been debated since 2009, when former Mount Airy Mayor David Pyatt resigned amid complaints that he threatened town officials and staff with being fired.
Following Pyatt’s resignation, the five-member council passed a resolution that changed the town charter to require a simple majority to override the mayor’s firing powers. The change was reversed by the council last October.
Prior to the 2009 incident, the council could not override the mayor’s decision to terminate town employees.
Pyatt, who was both mayor and council president at the time, resigned, and was replaced by current council President Peter Helt by a vote of the council.