In a surprise move with a 3-2 split vote, Salem City Council asked for and accepted the resignation of its city manager Monday night.
Reasons were shrouded under the protection of personnel actions, but two of the Council members who voted for City Manager Kevin Boggess to leave said they wanted the city to move in a different direction than the way it has been going with him.
Dissenting vote casters Mayor Randy Foley and Vice Mayor Jane Johnson made statements before the vote they felt the council’s action to ask for Kevin Boggess’ resignation was a mistake.
“I think this is a poor decision made for selfish, foolish, undefendable reasons,” said Mayor Randy Foley. “It is beyond me that this body can make this action.”
Foley referred to economic improvements that had been made under Boggess’ leadership, including downtown development and particularly renovating vacant Salem Body Shop into 18 short-term stay hotel rooms and two restaurants, and the start of another hotel on Wildwood Road.
Earlier that night council approved the possibility of a $2.5-million loan arrangement for Brent Cochran and Ed Walker, developers of the building near West Main and Broad Street.
“Your leadership will be missed,” Foley said to Boggess after the resignation vote. “Godspeed.”
Vice Mayor Jane Johnson noted she was without words. “I’m very disappointed that we’re taking this direction,” she said before adding, “Kevin Boggess stepped into his job at a low point in our history and, with the help of his Directors and guidance from Council, kept people in their jobs and the services our citizens have come to expect running smoothly.”
The action came as an added item at the end of the regular council meeting. Initially, council members had been expected to take up the regular performance review of the city manager and Assistant City Manager Jay Taliaferro. The discussion was in closed session before the meeting, which started at 6 p.m.
Even some of the staff at the meeting said privately they had not seen the move coming that night. Also in private, several citizens who regularly attend council meetings expressed approval of the change.
The three who voted for the resignation were the two newest members, John Saunders and James Martin, and former Vice Chairman Bill Jones.
Martin explained the discussion in the closed session “led us to the conclusion that [asking for the resignation] was the action…It was a choice to move in a different direction.”
He elaborated in an email later that the conversation during the executive session “turned toward past and present goals, objectives and overall philosophy in managing the city where differences became more pronounced and the course of action developed that was carried out tonight.”
Saunders said, “That’s the way it went.” When asked where he saw Salem City Council headed from here, he said, “We’re looking to the future and will see where it leads.”
After the meeting, Boggess, who has been city manager for almost 11 years and led Salem through tough economic times during the recession which included no raises for more than two years and a hiring freeze, stated, “This is the direction the city wants to go.”
Boggess’ last day will be Feb. 15, a Salem city spokesman said on Tuesday. Boggess released a written statement thanking former City Manager Forest Jones, members of Salem City Council and Howard Packett who hired Boggess in 2008.
He also said working for the city has been a tremendous experience.
“Salem is a phenomenal community that is emerging from a decade of recession with more investment and development activity than we have seen in many years. We have attracted some of the best developers in the state to invest in our downtown area and we have been awarded millions of dollars in downtown improvement grants to help build a streetscape that reflects the character of Salem.”
Boggess noted the change in the city manager position “should not and will not change the great progress that we are experiencing.” He reminded that the city will be facing some difficult decision in the next year regarding the need to fund the renovation of Salem High School, “balanced by the need to update city facilities and equipment in the lean years.” He asked people to be thoughtful and supportive of councilmembers “as they wrestle with these changes.”
He said he is not certain what will be next for him, but is looking forward to the opportunity.
When John Saunders ran for council and was elected in May 2018, he said he was running because “I think things need to change in Salem and I want to be a part of it.”
The retired Director of Civic Facilities said “Employees need to be taken care of, facilities need to be taken care of, and we need to revitalize not only downtown but other portions of Salem that have been neglected over the years: West Salem definitely needs a little boost, too many buildings down that way that are empty. East Salem is not the greatest entryway into Salem.”
Saunders added in a February 2018 interview, “Employee morale is way down; [working for the City of Salem] used to be the greatest job in the world.”
Other actions at the Jan. 14 Salem City Council meeting were to:
- Raise the cap on the economic development loan through the Economic Development Authority for the Salem Motor Lofts in the former Salem Body Shop LLC building. Historical Tax Credits will be used. Council accepted the performance agreement changes on the basis that developers had already met the initial projection of income from the first restaurant to open, El Jefe.
- Appropriate $100,000 in last year’s Sewer Fund budget to remove asbestos and raze the old Tidewater Street building. Originally plans were for the building to be upgraded for equipment storage, but an engineering evaluation determined that could not be done without significant financial investment.
- Set a $64,438 bond for erosion and sediment control for the planned avid hotel project in front of the Hampton Inn on Wildwood Road.
- Make a contribution equal to $594.86 to the Salem Band Boosters, equal to admissions tax for the annual Blue Ridge Regional High School Band Competition held in October.