ELIZABETHTON — By a 6-1 vote, the Elizabethton City Council chose Jerome Kitchens on Thursday to be its next city manager. Steven Neilson, Johnson City’s development coordinator, was the runner up and received Councilman Bob Cable’s vote.
Kitchens has been serving as interim city manager since Fred Edens Jr. retired as city manager in February. He also serves as director of finance and city clerk.
“I appreciate the council’s vote of confidence in me.” He said the other two finalists, Neilson and Melissa Peagler, senior planner for Morristown, were both quality candidates.
“I hope to live up to the council’s expectations,” Kitchens said.
Kitchens said his first goal is to get a budget for the 2013-14 fiscal year approved by the council. The first workshop session is set for Tuesday. He will present the council with a tight, balanced budget, he said.
Kitchens took an unusual route to become city manager. He started his career as a teacher in the Carter County School System in 1988. He moved to the central office after seven years in the classroom to become an assistant to Vocational Director Shirley Ellis. He entered the financial management end of government in 1998, when he became budget director for the county school system. When the county consolidated its financial activities, Kitchens moved to the courthouse as deputy director of finance in 2004. He became the county’s finance director in 2007. When Elizabethton’s finance director, Larry Clark, accepted a position as director of administrative services in Morristown in 2011, Kitchens moved into his position.
Kitchens said he has maintained his good relations with Carter County officials since his move to Elizabethton. “I still have (Carter County) Mayor (Leon) Humphrey and Chris (Schuettler, Carter County planning director) on my speed dial.”
Kitchens said he thought the council members went with the sure thing in voting for the interim. Mayor Curt Alexander said “we had three very good choices, three qualified candidates in very different areas.” While Peagler and Neilson had spent their careers in city planning, Kitchens’ expertise was in city finance.
Because they were such good candidates, Alexander said the selection “was one of the most difficult things we have had to do in a while.”
Kitchens said he was not bothered that he did not get a unanimous vote. “I think that wasn’t a vote against me, it was a vote for Neilson.”
In other matters, the council held a lengthy discussion on a lease-purchase agreement for the Elizabethton Golf Course to obtain a Toro Groundmaster 4500-D mower. Funds for the lease payment will come from golf course revenues and membership fees unless the golf course defaults. If that happened, the city would be responsible for the debt.
The council was also asked to show its level of support for a downtown 4th of July parade this year. Cable is heading a committee to organize and promote the parade. Cable has organized and led many parades over the years and led the effort to bring back a downtown 4th of July parade, but this is the first 4th of July parade he has led since 2008.
Cable said his parade committee needed to know the level of support from the city as the planning and organization continued. The council unanimously backed the effort.
Cable also asked for $10,000 in financial support from the city. He said the city provided $7,500 during the first parade and he had to provide money from his own pocket to make it work.
Alexander said since the council was having a budget workshop session on Tuesday, that was a decision that could be addressed at that time.