Michael Phillips, the city's emergency management, risk management, and safety coordinator, resigned this week, making him the fifth high-ranking city employee to leave in about two months. His last day with the city will be Oct. 11.
Since July, the city also has lost Public Works Director Tim Perry, who after 32 years with Palestine, retired and took a similar position with the city of Athens; Perry's replacement, Rob Thames retired a month later; Palestine Economic Development Corporation Director Gayle Cooper resigned, also in August, without notice; and, most recently, Palestine Police Chief Andy Harvey resigned Friday.
City Manager Leslie Cloer isn't sweating it, though a growing number of residents appear concerned over how city government is operating.
“I can't make someone work for the city of Palestine,” Cloer told the Herald-Press Wednesday. “Everyone has their own needs. I won't fault anyone for making their own decisions.”
Everyone is replaceable, said Cloer, who has served as interim city manager or city manager since former City Manager Michael Hornes resigned in May.
“I'm here to manage the budget, not to make friends,” Cloer said. “We all have to abide by the rules. And in matters of integrity, I'm responsible for that. We owe it to our residents to abide by our standards.
“People ask whether a glass is half-empty, or half full,” she said. “I say: what does it matter if the glass is refillable? With every change in leadership, you're going to have transition. It's my job to be concerned with how the city is going to function.”
Mayor Steve Presley told the Herald-Press the increase in departures reflects a problem fostered by past administrations.
“Our system didn't require people to follow the rules,” he said. “I tried multiple times over the years to hold employees and managers accountable. I was usually either ignored, or just outright refused.”
Presley said current council members, as well as the city manager, require everyone to follow the rules. Those accustomed to doing things their own way are gradually leaving, one by one.
“This causes disruption, but I'm grateful we have a city manager who is working diligently to fix things,” Presley said. “I don't think any of our past department managers have done anything wrong; I appreciate the service they've given to the city. They just chose another path.”
Phillips spent 23 years with the Palestine Fire Department. He reached the rank of battalion chief, before becoming the city's risk management and safety coordinator in May of 2016.
Last June, after budget cuts had eliminated the position of full-time emergency management coordinator, Phillips, who earned $51, 043 a year, took on the additional EMC duties – with no raise in pay. The former EMC, John Herd, earned nearly $60,000 a year when he resigned in May of 2017.
Phillips also served as civil service director, and performed human resources duties, as needed.
“It's the reality of city government,” Cloer said. “We all have to wear a lot of hats.”
Cloer said she is grateful to Phillips for his years of service. “I wish him well with his endeavors,” she said. “I hope we maintain a workable relationship.”
Multiple attempts by the Herald-Press to contact Michael Phillips for comment were unsuccessful.