Even those on city council who want to make a change in Hinesville’s city managers have said Billy Edwards deserves respect and has served his city well.
He’s certainly doing so now.
Edwards, the longtime city manager who has remained publicly quiet about his not so carefully orchestrated removal, may well have been able to sue Hinesville so hard it would never recover from this whatever-it-is-you- want to call it.
We’ll never know, now that he’s signed a "covenant" promising not to sue the city. That agreement doesn’t include any admission of wrongdoing by the city, by the way, but it’s viewed by some as just that.
I’m not a lawyer, and I don’t play one on TV, so I don’t know.
I do know Edwards got legal proof he wasn’t fired for doing anything wrong, he resigned. That may be in a sense what really mattered to Edwards.
Still, he will get money he’s owed for the next nine months, including that two weeks worth of salary taken from him during his suspension in June.
That adds up to some $116,347. It’ll be paid in two installments, including a nice check in January. Lest you cringe, the city’s taxpayers are getting off light, considering Edwards nearly four decades of service to his hometown.
Contrast that $116,000 for nearly 40 years with the $190,000 the Liberty County Board of Education is paying in tax dollars to Dr. Valya S. Lee, the former school superintendent.
I believe Lee did some good here, there’s no denying that. She was an out of the box thinker and appeared to care deeply about all the students in this system.
But Lee’s tenure also was marred by an "us against them" ruling style that led to dissension in the ranks and public spats between school board members. And from a newspaper standpoint she could be, well, prickly.
Edwards was rarely, if ever, that.
However, Edwards’ lawyer, Hugh McNutt of Vidalia, is known for being very good at suing the pants off people, and word is he could’ve taken Hinesville’s taxpayers to the cleaners and had a good time doing it.
Many suspect that didn’t happen because of who Edwards is. He probably could’ve sued and won, but didn’t. He didn’t go for the money, and that speaks volumes.
But this story’s not over.
There are still questions to be answered, not least of which is why Edwards wound up suspended without pay in the first place without one shred of explanation to the public.
And there’s also the question of who’ll replace Edwards, who I hope goes fishing for a while and then decides to write a book. I’d read it.
Interim City Manager Ken Howard may be the right choice. He’s served the city faithfully for years and from the outside looking in certainly would seem to deserve an opportunity to carry the torch forward, no matter how he landed in the seat.
Still, whether it’s Howard or somebody else, Edwards left some big shoes to fill. What’s more, they’ll find out soon that the job is usually thankless.
If you think having one boss is bad, try having a whole board of elected officials to contend with. Try having a whole city full of residents ready to be mad the next time the water pressure drops or the garbage collection is late or a pothole starts flattening tires.
It’s a difficult job, being city manager. That’s why they’re so highly paid. It’s also why Edwards was a rarity in the city manager world. Like football coaches, these people are pretty much hired to be fired, and most lead nomadic existences, moving from city to city or city to county, etc., every few years.
Besides, you get on the wrong side of a majority of city council members and you can be toast before you know it.