By Jamie Parker
A chain of events put into action in early January came to a completion Tuesday night when the Richmond Hill City Council voted 4-0 to select Chris Lovell as the municipality’s new City Manager during its regularly scheduled meeting.
Lovell, a native of Richmond Hill, will replace Mike Melton who had been Richmond Hill’s City Manager for 15 years until Jan. 3 of this year when, by a 3-1 vote, the council declared the contract between Melton and the city null and void.
Council members Van Hunter, John Fesperman and Jan Bass voted in favor of Melton’s removal; Russ Carpenter was the sole anti-vote.
“I voted not to suspend Mike because I believe he is the most efficient person I have ever worked with. City Hall runs like a Swiss clock, I felt no change was needed,” Carpenter said.
Richmond Hill Mayor Harold Fowler said at the time that Melton was released not for cause but simply because he and the council wanted someone who has the same vision for the future of the city as they do.
“It is not that he is being fired for anything he has done in the past. It is just that we feel we want to go in a different direction, and to do that we felt like we needed a different person,” the mayor said.
That same night, Melton was suspended with pay pending his decision whether to appeal his dismissal or not. He eventually did appeal, but then later accepted a severance offer from the city on Jan. 19, ending the appeal procedure.
In the meantime, on Feb. 7, the council voted to seek to amend the city’s charter, specifically as it pertained to the position of city manager. The new charter, which was signed in to law by Gov. Nathan Deal on April 13, eliminated the mandatory position of city manager in the Richmond Hill administration.
But according to City Attorney Ray Smith, while the mandatory position was eliminated, the city could still appoint or hire a manager, and define that person’s responsibilities and duties as they saw fit.
Fowler noted that the change in the charter meant the city would be reverting back to the type of government it had prior to 2006; one that featured a strong mayor and council, and weak city manager.
“I think this will make me and the council more accountable and responsive to the citizens,” he said.
What Lovell’s duties in the city administration under the new charter will be are uncertain at this time.
Last month Melton accepted the position of County Manager in White County, Ga.
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