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Facing a challenge

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New interim city manager has track record of tackling problems

By Cheri Harris

Some people see an organization’s crisis as something from which to flee. Not Dorothy Inman-Johnson. Hearing about the city of Midway’s turmoil and the city manager’s resignation made her want to roll up her sleeves and start solving problems.

Inman-Johnson retired May 31, 2012, as executive director of the Capital Area Community Action Agency in Tallahassee, and after more than a year of a leisurely existence — and authoring a book, “Poverty, Politics and Race” — she said she was ready to get back to work.

“I was becoming bored,” she said, “and ready to do something more exciting and challenging and when I saw the news report about Auburn Ford (Jr.) leaving, I turned to my husband and said, ‘That would be a perfect job for me.’”

She said she called Midway’s city commissioners to get the word out that she was interested in the job if they decided to fill the position, and she supplied a resume with her leadership experience, which includes being elected in 1989 as Tallahassee’s first African-American mayor.

She served on Tallahassee’s city commission from 1986 to 1994 and served as mayor from 1989 to 1990 and 1993 to 1994. She was also an educator for 28 years —19 of them at Florida State University’s Developmental Research School. She said she retired as an educator to take the job at the agency.

Inman-Johnson said she has the ability to help Midway out of its current crisis and the organization she led until she retired was in a similar but worse situation — complete with ongoing FDLE and FBI investigations — before she took the reigns.

She said back in April 1998, the organization had been decertified as a United Way agency and another federal agency was scheduled to do close-out monitoring on the organization’s federal grants.

“It had gone through a year of front-page stories about terrible audits and mismanagement of funds and possible theft of federal funds,” she said, “a whole slew of things and in that situation there was a former employee with the agency who ended up being indicted and convicted in a U.S. federal court. And I was proud that within a year of being there, the agency was off crisis and was starting to regain the respect it had had in previous years, and when I retired it was considered one of the best-run community action agencies in the state.”

She said her success in that situation led her to believe she had the skill set to come in and do the kind of problem-solving and crisis management needed to get Midway back on its feet. 

Quickly.

Since coming aboard, she said she has met with city department heads and discovered that in some cases, key departments did not have defined leadership.

“It was Angie (Angelia Goldwire, Midway’s finance director), wearing a whole slew of hats — and as a result some things were falling through the cracks because no one person can do everything.”

She said she has also tackled the status of the fire station by meeting with a representative from Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity.

“It looks like we’re going to have access to some of our general revenue money that was spent on that project relatively soon — hopefully part of it before the end of the month, possibly a little over $119,000, and there’s another $130,000, give or take, that could be available that’s already been determined to be allowable expenditures and could be ready for release upon Midway submitting the appropriate documentation of these expenses actually coming out of our general revenue budget.”

She said the project still has some expenditures considered questionable that the DEO is disallowing, but part of those funds could be cleared in the near future.

Meanwhile, the new fire station remains inactive.

“It’s not in use,” she said, “and it really can’t be in use until some of these issues are resolved, because it’s not really considered complete.”

Funding from DEO would be based on expenditures Midway has already made on the fire station project.

Another topic Inman-Johnson will tackle is the proposed charter school — to put it simply, she does not believe it is feasible that it will be up and running by August 2014.

“The discussion at the council meeting was that no grant had ever been written for this,” she said. She said the council’s vision is a $1.5 million grant to make the school possible, but nothing has been done to secure a grant, making it difficult to project that the city could have a charter school built, fully staffed and enrollment completed in time for the next school year.

“It’s fine to be in the planning phases for that and get the grant written in this year,” she said, “but you don’t hire the staff for a school; you don’t create debt in a government that’s already struggling financially to create a staff for a nonexistent school until there is a reasonable expectation that the school is a realistic possibility.”

She is also recommending he city hire a paid fire chief instead of a volunteer chief since the city now has two stations. 

“I feel we need at least the person at the helm to be a paid, more accountable staff instead of a volunteer,” she said, “and I feel you’re better able to hold people accountable when they are paid and they are in the direct chain of leadership with clear responsibilities and oversight.”

The other position she plans to fill is for a city planner and a grant manager. 

She said she believes some positions should be paid city employees instead of independent contractors because employees fall under a clear line of authority and oversight.

“I’m building a team,” she said. “I’m building a professional team I can hold accountable to get things ship-shape inside of government and relieve the council of worries that situations like the ones we’re dealing with now will continue to occur and relieve the citizens of Midway of that concern as well because a lot of money is going into cleaning up this crisis that could be going into real services and opportunities for building a higher quality of life for the citizens here.”

Thomas R. Thompson, president of the board of directors for Capital Area Community Action Agency, said he has served on the board nearly six years and knew Inman-Johnson for several years before she came to the agency.

When she worked for the agency, Thompson said different funding sources audited the organization almost every month and she always followed the rules and anything that needed correcting was remedied by the time it came to the attention of the board. He said she is a good person to manage the issues Midway is currently faced with and she has a good reputation.

“And I wish her luck for sure,” Thompson said. “She doesn’t need my luck. She’s a great choice.”

 Mark Mustian, a Tallahassee attorney, said he interacted with Inman-Johnson when she worked at Capital Area and he was on the Tallahassee Commission.

“I always had the impression that she was a very good administrator,” he said. While some organizations who crossed his path seemed to have financial issues and poor record-keeping, he said that was never the case with Capital Area and that organization always seemed to be well managed.

“I think Dot is a very forceful and organized person from my standpoint,” he said. “She should bring a lot of stability there.”