Branson's city administrator Terry Dody has been most discussed by local journalist Gary Groman who has alluded to him (among other less flattering descriptions) as the Darth Vadar of Branson.
In a planning session two weeks ago, it was determined that Branson's city administrator will be coming up for evaluation. City leaders will select areas of responsibility and rank Dody's performance on a 1-5 scale.
On one hand, Branson Mayor Raeanne Presley has asked every department head to submit evaluations and areas of which they can improve their departments. The request was received in good spirits by leaders who have taken the call for self-improvement as a task worth tackling.
The topic of Terry Dody's evaluation is the most fascinating and unique in this respect: The current administration has changed Dody's methods most significantly. At the end of former Mayor Lou Schaefer's career, waning health pushed Dody into a more authoritative position than he has today. In this context, is Dody’s position as Groman’s whipping boy justified?
The photo you see above is rare which depicts the fundamental public relations issue facing Dody. Hollister city administrator Rick Ziggnefuss has a more rigid approach to governance but has never taken the heat Dody seems to endure weekly. Is Rick a less hands on administrator? No. In fact, in many ways Ziggenfuss is more heavy-handed leader. During an hour long interview last week – in the wake of three Hollister police officers being fired – Ziggenfuss discussed his closed-door policy. Hollister city employees are not allowed to speak to Ziggenfuss without their direct leader’s presence. On one hand, reporter relationships with the city of Hollister are very different which is why the Hollister police story was so easily buried from regional reporters. Bottom line – it never came out in a press release for correspondents to regurgitate to the public.
What does Ziggenfuss do that Dody doesn’t? He patronizes popular local restaurants and mingles with Hollister citizenry while Dody’s public appearances are rare. What about markers? The shear economic power and growth of Branson significantly towers over Hollister, which was once the tourism center of Taney County,
The new administration has sparred with Dody on several occasions. During Branson 101, Alderman Bob McDowell fired, “Don’t take away my rights.” Alderwoman Sandra Williams has criticized Dody about administrative policies of past in relation to disclosure and sunshine law. Alderman Stephen Marshall’s spar with Dody was the topic of four articles – which excluded many important facts and overshadowed a handful of other topics discussed during the meeting.
During the heated debate between Marshall and Dody we learned a little bit about Dody’s character. Though aggressive and admittedly stubborn we learned that in years of heated discussion he was able to keep his cool. Considering the high-power political fire he’s endured, this fact is impressive.
A good reporter should always maintain the benefit of the doubt position. My personal interaction with Dody has been minimal. When I wanted to understand a bond issue Dody put me in the right direction. From an administrator’s perspective – getting the story straight is important. However, after I pushed for rapid delivery of public audio files in front of the new administration - direct access to many of my resources were cut off.
One area is the IT department who won’t answer even the most basic questions without sending me through spools of red tape. At the last city council meeting the Mayor brought the head of the department over for a discussion. As soon as the Mayor turned her head – he wouldn’t speak a word. Although the public benefited from my actions, access to public information on a personal has been significantly limited.