Welcome to week #19 of the Cookingham Connection. Today, we learn from a 34-year veteran of the city management profession: Ed Wyatt, who is currently serving as the interim city manager of Henderson, NC.
Previously, Ed was the city manager of Wilson from 1991-2005. He has also served as city manager for Fairfax, Va. (1982-1991), Greenville, NC, Morganton, NC and Washington, NC. He holds a B.S. in Business from Virginia Tech, a Master of Commerce from the University of Richmond and a M.A. in Political Science from Appalachian State University.
In his retirement, he has served the communities of Henderson, Elon, New Bern, and Roanoke Rapids as the interim city manager. But perhaps most notably, he is the father of ELGL co-founder Kent Wyatt!
“Always remember that you will never get in trouble or be embarrassed by doing what is right. You may lose your job for standing up for what you think is right, but you‘ll always get another and better job. Besides, you will be able to sleep soundly every night.”
As I pondered how to address this guidepost, I found myself agreeing with parts of the statement but questioning other parts. My 34 year career in city management was based on the foundation of doing what is right and standing up for what I thought was right.
Although this principle never caused me to lose my job, it did often get me in trouble, make me start a job search because I saw the writing on the wall and definitely caused some sleepless nights. The right path is not always the easiest or most strongly supported way. Yet in the field of local government, it should be what we strive for.
I had only been employed as the manager of one municipality for less than a year when an election markedly changed the composition of the council. The new council expressed informally that I fire two members of the leadership team based on council members’ personal feelings and possible negative remarks they were hearing in the community. From what I had been able to determine, the employees were competent and doing their jobs. I had no reason to fire them.
I, also, knew that if I didn’t stand up to the council, it would set a precedent for other personnel matters. Luckily, the council backed off their position, I didn’t lose a job in less than a year and I upheld my principles. Sleepless nights, yes, but they weren’t over whether what I had done was right.
It has often been said that every good manager will be fired at least once. This may be viewed as an overstatement but illustrates the hazards of the profession. Being fired is not something to be taken lightly. It comes with economic and emotional consequences. During my years in local government, employment agreements with severance provisions were not prevalent.
Today, they help alleviate the economic impact of being dismissed. Some of those who are fired will find a new and/or better job in local government, others will take lesser jobs in the field and some will decide that the profession is not for them.
Most importantly, however, whatever your career path, it is important to do what you know is right. When all is said and done, you have to be able to live with yourself.