Winnebago’s departing city administrator may have given a hint as to one reason why he’s leaving.
At a special City Council meeting Tuesday night, Chris Ziegler had some pointed advice after nearly 40 minutes of discussion on whether to hire a replacement.
“If you go down the path of an administrator, I would say the most important thing is to follow the chain of command,” says Ziegler. “Make sure that everyone on the council reinforces the personnel policy and chain of command.”
Council members approved Ziegler’s resignation during a Feb. 12 meeting and his last day on the job was Feb. 22.
Former councilman Scott Robertson says in the past there have been times when an employee who had a concern or problem would go directly to the mayor or a council member instead of Ziegler.
“They would basically cut him out of the process and they were micro-managing,”says Robertson. “It’s like you’re getting back-doored. That’s why we are where we are right now — without an administrator.”
Council members debated whether to eliminate the city administrator’s position or whether those duties could be handled in-house.
Councilman Paul Eisenmenger expressed his concern that the city has had a high turnover of administrators in the 13 years he has lived here.
“We’ve gone through four and we can’t keep doing this,” he says. “As soon as we take a step forward, we take two steps back. We drive them out.”
Eisenmenger says the administrator’s position can be overwhelming because of the wide range of duties and knowledge that is required.
“It’s not fair to condemn him (Chris) for some things he doesn’t know,” says Eisenmenger. “I don’t think we are going to find someone to meet everyone’s expectations.”
Although councilman Rick Johnson was not in attendance, Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says he had a phone conversation with him to get his thoughts.
“He wants to explore options and would like to gather more information,” says Schutt. “What is going to make more sense to Winnebago and the taxpayers?”
Schutt favors maintaining a city administrator because he believes the position is necessary to help Winnebago grow and move forward.
“Where are we today and where will we be in the future,?” says Schutt. “What are wants, needs and realistic goals?”
Council member Jean Anderson cites the nearly $9 million northwest infrastructure project and the city taking over ownership of the school building as a reason for hiring an administrator.
“We need someone positive,” she says. “At the end of the day we need to have a figure head, a leader the community can report to.”
Councilman Calvin Howard thinks the city should conduct a search for an administrator because someone needs to be in charge of the day-to-day operations.
“Who would be boss, doing the hiring and firing,?” asks Howard. “We have to make it lucrative enough so we aren’t just a resume builder.”
Robertson told council members called not hiring an administrator would be “a huge mistake and crazy.”
He says currently there is no one on city staff who are qualified to prepare an annual budget or write grants to fund various projects.
“You don’t want to eliminate a position to save money,” says Robertson. “We lost a real leader at a real important time for this city. We don’t have a point person now and it bothers me.”
For now, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, part-time assistant Deputy Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson will handle administrative duties, with Sturtz being in charge of the office at City Hall.
Schutt says that he and Anderson met with the three to discuss what should be done in the interim.
“We’re all going to have to buck up too and help,” he says. “They aren’t going to be able to handle all the duties.”
Council members approved full-time employment status for Staloch and must still decide how much additional pay she, Sturtz and Olson will earn.
If the council decides to hire an administrator, they can expect it will be a lengthy process.
“It could take two to three months,” says Ziegler. “We want to give a good window for applications. I’d say three weeks.”