Bethel Fire Chief Bill Howell is now Bethel’s Acting City Manager. City council appointed Howell to the position last week, three days after publicly firing former City Manager Pete Williams. As KYUK reports, Howell has sat in the city manager’s seat before, but never under these circumstances.
Every time Howell has stepped in as acting city manager, it was because the city manager was on vacation. Howell’s done that half a dozen times over the past five years, but he’s never been in a situation like this one.
“I was surprised as anybody about Peter’s termination,” said Howell.
Howell says that members of city council approached him about filling the city manager role the day after firing Williams.
“Not prior,” Howell emphasized. “Not prior to the termination.”
During the last regular city council meeting, council member Mitchell Forbes warned the council against firing former City Manager Pete Williams. Williams managed $32 million in open grants and loans for the city, and Forbes feared that the city might lose that money without a proper transition. The grants and loans were for projects like adding piped water to the Avenues and reconstructing three roads near Housing Subdivision. Howell says that taking over these projects has been going smoothly.
“The prior manager left very comprehensive files for those projects on his desk,” said Howell. “He was just fairly organized and had those files laid out.”
As acting city manager, Howell says that his primary goal is to keep the existing city projects going, but he also has some ideas of his own.
“Improve customer service. And not to say that the city is doing a poor job of that right now, but you know, I think when people walk into our offices and our building they should feel welcome when they come in," Howell said.
Howell has not given up his fire chief responsibilities entirely. He still checks on the fire station for an hour or two every day, but Howell is only receiving one salary from the city. He receives the same salary that former City Manager Pete Williams received: $132,600. Bethel Fire Captain Daron Solesbee has stepped in as acting fire chief.
Bethel City Council will discuss finding a more permanent city manager at the next regular council meeting on May 14.