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October 18, 2014

Warrenton’s town manager leaving for Tennessee

Town Manager Ken McLawhon came from Indian Head, Md., in 2002.
Ken loved the town, and I think he was passionate about the town and his job.
— Warrenton Councilman Sparky Lewis
Kenneth L. McLawhon
• Age: 56

• Work: Warrenton town manger, April 2002 to present.

• Salary: $157,000, including “deferred compensation.”

• Next: Retiring Jan. 1 after 30 years of government service in Virginia and taking town administrator’s job in Nolensville, Tenn.

• Experience: Town manager, Indian Head, Md., 1998-2002; town manger/zoning administrator, South Boston, 1995-98; town manager/zoning administrator, Smithfield, 1993-95; assistant town manger, Smithfield, 1990-93; personnel practices analyst, Virginia Department of Employee Management Services, 1989; assistant to county administrator, Hanover County, 1988-89; town administrator, 1987-88.

• Military: U.S. Marine Corps, 1976-81.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, political science, Virginia Commonwealth University, 1987.

• Family: Wife, Suzy; daughter, Alexandra
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Updated Monday morning with comments from Nolensville, Tenn., mayor.

Warrenton’s town manager plans to step down after more than 12 years and take a job in Tennessee.

Ken McLawhon will “retire,” effective Jan. 1, he announced in an email to town council members late Friday afternoon.

Hired in February 2002 as the town’s chief executive, Mr. McLawhon earns $157,000 annually, including $5,000 a year in deferred compensation.

He started the job at $88,000.

Mr. McLawhon, 56, on Thursday night accepted the town administrator’s job in Nolensville, Tenn., near Nashville.

He will start there Jan. 5, Mr. McLawhon said Saturday in a phone interview.

The manager called it an “encore career . . . . In this case, it’s an excellent opportunity in an excellent venue for my family and me.”

His $90,000 salary will represent about 60 percent of what Mr. McLawhon earns in Warrenton. But with 30 years of service under the Virginia Retirement System, the manager also will begin drawing his pension, while living in a state that has no income tax. He also will get housing, relocation and vehicle allowances, along with deferred compensation.

“Ken loved the town, and I think he was passionate about the town and his job,” said Sparky Lewis (Ward 5), Warrenton’s longest-serving councilman. “He was perceived as being business-unfriendly, but that was not the case. He was just working with the ordinances we put in place.”

While former Mayor George Fitch gets much of the credit for construction of the Warrenton Aquatics and Recreation Facility, “the WARF came into being on Ken’s watch,” Mr. Lewis added. “Ken also hired Lou Battle, and I think of him as the best police chief in my experience.”

Mr. McLawhon cited a list of $50 million in projects and the town’s general operations — partially funded with very low personal property and real estate taxes — among highlights of his tenure in Warrenton.

“When it snows, the streets are almost immediately cleared,” he said. “We have a great public works department and other services, all for about the cost (annually) of a meal for a family of four.”

The manager also mentioned town department heads as the best group of managers with whom he has worked since starting his government career in 1987.

The town council voted, 6-0, in February 2002 to hire Mr. McLawhon among five finalists for the job, which drew more than 100 applicants.

As it has done in the past, the council probably will hire an interim manager to take over in January while the search for Mr. McLawhon’s successor takes place. Typically, the town has hired a firm to recruit and screen candidates.

“It’s gonna take at least three to six months to get the right person,” Councilman Jerry Wood (Ward 1) said. “We don’t want to rush it . . . .

“This is not an easy job,” Mr. Wood continued. “It’s hard to please everyone.”

Council members, including those who have criticized Mr. McLawhon’s deeply-involved management style, praised his oversight of town finances.

“He’s very organized,” Councilman Yak Lubowsky (Ward 3) said. “He always knows what everybody’s doing . . . running a tight ship. Ken’s ‘Management 101’ skills are strong.”

Councilman Sean Polster (At-large) called Mr. McLawhon “a great financial steward. He’s the one who’s kept us in good shape . . . without having to raise taxes.”

Mr. Polster also credited the manger with helping him keep Warrenton’s Christmas parade going after civic groups stopped organizing it. “When I first took over the parade, he walked me through the process” for town permitting and street closures, the freshman councilman added.

Behind the scenes, however, a new council majority had pushed for a change in the position.

Mr. McLawhon’s contract automatically renewed for two years in June. That clause particularly upset several council members, who believed the manager should have undergone a more thorough performance evaluation. Those council members forced the town to hire outside counsel to review the contract. The manager also hired a lawyer.

But, legal review found that previous councils had properly approved and amended the contract.

Mr. McLawhon will become Nolensville’s first town administrator.

Founded in 1996, the community has grown very quickly, Mayor Jimmy Alexander said in a phone interview Monday morning.

“When I moved out here in 1999, we had 1,500 residents; now we’re at 8,000,” Mr. Alexander said. “We’re a small town, but we’re growing very rapidly.

“We’re on the edge of metropolitan Nashville.”

Mr. McLawhon will mange a smaller staff in Nolensville, which “outsources” public works and utility services. The town staff of about two dozen employees includes a police department, community development and administration.

“It’s a safe community,” the mayor added. “We’ve never had a homicide . . . Williams County has the best schools in Tennessee.”

Retired from the Metropolitan Government of Nashville, Mr. Alexander has served as the part-time town administrator as well as mayor.

“We’ve never had an administrator,” he explained. “We went back and forth for months about whether we should have one . . . . But, it’s time.”

He and Nolensville’s four aldermen voted unanimously to hire Mr. McLawhon among 78 applicants, the mayor said. “We’re lucky to get him.”

Mr. McLawhon described “a very pastoral” community, similar to Fauquier, in a milder climate.

He will complete the longest tenure of a Warrenton town manager since Ed Brower retired in 1986 after more than 26 years on the job.

Town Managers

• Ken McLawhon, 2002-14

• John Anizvino, 1989-2001

• Don Smith, 1986-89

• Ed Brower, 1962-86

• P.W. Ancell, 1960-62

• Sidney Shumate, 1923-60

• J.W. Shirley, 1920-23

• L.M. Clarkson, 1920

Source: Town of Warrenton

McLawhon Press Release by Fauquier Now

Member comments
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Bekemp · October 23, 2014 at 8:52 am
Suggestion: When people leave, wish them well or be quiet. If you didn't like them, their leaving is satisfaction enough. If you did like them, it's nice to let them know. Life is too short.
Tell It Like It Is · October 22, 2014 at 9:25 am
and ....... he also has a slaughterhouse in the middle of town that has been expanding nearly totally out of control during his tenure, goats running loose in town and in some folk's businesses from the looks of some articles.
Yeah, he did a nice job making sure zoning is equally enforced .... NOT.
Oh and Patton shot the animal holding up progress of the greatest generation of warriors that this country has ever known, or at least in the movie anyway.

To compare Mr. MacLawhon to such truly great military leaders is an insult to our military!

He can't even control a few goat expanding.
ocean7 · October 22, 2014 at 9:02 am
BTO, McLawhon was a terrible leader, he was a bully. He had NOTHING to do with lower the taxes. If you think old town (down town) is thriving you are looking though rose colored glasses. As for the hospital do you really think he had anything to do with that transaction? If you do let us know what planet you are from. Lastly the community is hardly at a loss due to his leaving. I feel sorry for the town in TN. They have no idea a sorry human being is on his way.
Bachman Turner Overdrive Super Fan · October 21, 2014 at 8:30 pm
Ocean 7, you are polluted like many of our earths water ways. Mr. mclawhon is a great leader, much like other great leaders like Lee, Patton and Schwartzkopf. He has led this town into a great era in his short time here. We have the lowest taxes in the country, brick sidewalks, a thriving downtown, lots of parades, a visitor center, a new hospital, well mowed grass areas and an active community - all tanks to him. If any tears are shed by town employees or business owners alike, they will be bittersweet tears - sad tears for his going but joyful tears for being blessed with his watching over our little town like a wise old owl watching over his little fledgling owl babies. So don't be such a hater, as we are at loss for his moving away to that unholy land of Nashville. Such a den of sin is undeserving of a pilgrim of peace like Mr. Mclawan.
ocean7 · October 21, 2014 at 8:10 am
F2U, what, "Be careful what you wish for"? What did I wish for, the earlier release of McLawhon? Somehow that is bad? McLawhon is the countries best town manager (Lord I hope that is not so). You honestly think that with him leaving the council is going to revert back to the 70's tax rates? Reality is McLawhon had nothing to do with the reduction of taxes in the first place. Fact is most business people in town dislike McLawhon. Most of the town staff dislike McLawhon. The man abused is power, it is long over due that he is leaving. I for one look forward to new leadership.
Fauquier2you · October 20, 2014 at 7:04 pm
Ocean 7, be careful what you wish for and the change you encourage.
ocean7 · October 20, 2014 at 8:04 am
Dirk sometimes the truth hurts. What you really should be concerned with is why the past council's allowed this to go on. The one councilmen that praised (blew smoke up all of our butts) McLawhon is one of the group that allowed this to go on. Please re-read the article, there was a majority on the current council that wanted a change. If McLawhon was doing such a fantastic job then why were they seeking a change? Classy or not you would be better served taking your head out of the sand I find out the truth for yourself.
Dirk Digler · October 20, 2014 at 7:40 am
I imagine if anything Ocean7 says was true, then Ken would have been fired years ago. Attacking a guy when he's leaving... Real classy.
ocean7 · October 19, 2014 at 5:15 pm
Definitely past due, should have been asked to leave years ago. Not business friendly, very hard on staff, abused power and generally just not a nice guy. McLawhon leaving does not equal higher taxes. The town has good revenue sources (such as water and sewer fees, BP fees, permitting fees, etc.) and does not have major expenses (such as school's), that's why taxes are low.
Fauquier2you · October 19, 2014 at 10:38 am
Congratulations Ken!!! You should know that Warrenton residence really do appreciate what you have done while holding the position as Town Manager. Town residence....WAKE UP, and take note on what is getting ready to start happening to Warrenton. Higher taxes will be the start!!!
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