Stahl marks 10th year as city manager

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Charles Stahl came to Elizabethton during a political upheaval involving the sitting city manager and City Council. Ten years later, Stahl remains at the helm of Elizabethton's city government giving the city leadership stability during good times and bad.
   "I never looked that far ahead to be frank about it," Stahl said Thursday of his 10 years with the city. City government employees celebrated Stahl's anniversary on Thursday morning with a reception honoring his service to the city.
   Stahl took office in February 1994 after City Council members selected him from among five candidates. Prior to coming to Elizabethton, he served as assistant city manager and treasurer for the city of Bluefield, W.Va., from 1988 to 1994. He had previously served as budget director for the city government of Johnson City from 1984 to 1988.
   Stahl came to Elizabethton five months after turmoil rocked the town's top executive office in 1993. Four sitting City Council members were voted out of office in the contentious "Re-elect Nobody" city election held on Sept. 21, 1993. Before the new council members could take office, a majority of sitting council members voted to fire then city manager, Robert "Dan" Collins, and at the same meeting voted to rehire him as interim city manager. Incoming council members filed a lawsuit alleging Collins had orchestrated his own termination to collect a severance package. The lawsuit was ultimately settled out of court.
   "It was a challenging year, the first year in office," he said.
   Stahl credited the city's employees with making municipal operations most successful. "The employees of this city have always put the community first," said Stahl, who has served with five mayors and more than 20 different City Council members. "The employees are extremely dedicated to this city and community with whatever allocated resources."
   During Stahl's time in office, the city has undergone a series of infrastructure improvements, most notable the multimillion-dollar expansion of the city's wastewater treatment plant. City Council members prioritize budget functions carried out by the city government.
   The city also initiated a massive street resurfacing project that has repaved 45 percent of city streets in the past 10 years.
   The city added new fire department personnel, purchased new fire trucks and established Fire Station 3 on West G Street near the city golf course. The city has also seen improvements to storm drainage gutters, a complete street and curbing rebuild in the Blackbottom area along West Mill Street, and current restoration projects of the Elk Avenue Bridge and Covered Bridge. Stahl points out that despite those projects, the city's property tax rate of $2.30 has not been increased since 1992.
   Stahl's family moved to Tennessee from the Washington, D.C. area when his father, a U.S. Navy physician, retired from the military to become assistant to the state's chief medical examiner. He received his undergraduate degree and master's degree in City Management from East Tennessee State University. Stahl said his experience living in nearby Johnson City -- and given his wife Janet is a Roan Mountain native -- made Elizabethton an attractive professional opportunity.
   "It was a goal of mine to serve as Elizabethton's city manager," he said. "I felt it was a wholesome community with a good quality of life and I wanted to be part of it."
   He was awarded the City Manager of the Year honor in 2001 from the Tennessee City Managers Association. In light of the turnover rate among other Tri-Cities municipalities, Stahl is something of an anomaly. He now ranks as the longest serving city manager at one municipality east of Morristown.
   John Campbell resigned as city manager of Johnson City in 2001. Former Bristol Tennessee City Manager Tony Massey resigned earlier this month shortly before receiving a vote of no confidence from a majority of that city's council membership.
   He also said his job is made easier because council members anticipate the city's needs. "I've had the pleasure of working with some very progressive City Councils," he said.
   Stahl said the job's most pronounced downside came as the city government has faced perhaps its greatest financial challenges over the past two years. The state government's withholding of taxes typically shared with local governments and anemic local sales tax numbers forced the city administration to slash the 2003 and 2004 fiscal year budgets by double-digit percentages.
   While fixing every problem facing the city is an impossible task, Stahl said the challenge of maintaining public services continues to drive him professionally.
   "The challenge is trying your best to put a working plan together to address any of these problems that benefit a common interest of the community," he said.