Winnebago City Council will seek the help of South Central Service Cooperative in their search for a new city administrator.
During a work session prior to Tuesday’s council meeting, discussion at times turned testy between council members Rick Johnson and Paul Eisenmenger.
At the center of their disagreement was a letter to the Personnel Committee that Eisenmenger called,”surprising and weird.”
Eisenmenger says he has talked with former City Administrator Chris Ziegler two times since he resigned and contents of the letter was never mentioned.
“I want to know. You may think I do, but I don’t,” Eisenmenger told Johnson, “ It looks very suspicious and strange.”
Johnson says because the matter is similar to an attorney/client privilege relationship nothing can be said at this time.
“When it gets time to go to the council, it will,” says Johnson. “There is a chain of command and a process.”
Johnson raised his voice, at one point, and Eisenmenger responded, “ You don’t have to yell at me.”
After the meeting, Johnson was vague when asked to comment on the letter.
“There’s a complaint and it’s being addressed. I’ve turned it over to the city attorney,” he says.
Johnson was the lone dissenting vote against hiring a city administrator, saying it is something he has thought about during the past three administrators.
He says the city’s population has decreased and wonders if taxpayers can afford to continue paying for the position. When Ziegler left he was earning more than $65,000.
“We have department heads, the council and office staff. If everyone works in a cohesive manner, as a team, it will work,” he says. “Everything is in place. I think it can work and we can save a chunk of money.”
Councilman Calvin Howard says not having a city administrator would mean that council members might have to get involved in the day-to-day operations.
“I don’t think it’s a good time to be cutting down on office help,” he says. “Things seem to be going in the right direction.”
Mayor Jeremiah Schutt says a city administrator is needed because, “There’s very positive energy going on right now in the city.”
Schutt says council member Jean Anderson, who did not attend the meeting, also supports maintaining the position..
City leaders cite a $3 million, 16,000-square-foot expansion project at Heartland Senior Living; a nearly $9 million street and infrastructure project in the northwest part of town; and a group’s plan to turn the Winnebago school into a vocational training center as reasons for having an administrator.
“You’ll save money not having an administrator, but the ball is going to be dropped somewhere,” says Howard.
Eisenmenger says there has to be someone in charge to deal with any concerns and questions that staff or the public may have.
While he supports hiring an administrator, that may not be enough to satisfy Eisenmenger.
“What happened to drive out someone who has lived in the community for several years? Eisenmenger asks. “What happened?”
Until someone is hired, Deputy City Clerk Jessi Sturtz, City Clerk Judy Staloch and Police Chief Eric Olson will handle administrative duties.
The council also voted to give them each a $3 an hour pay raise and increase Staloch’s hours to full-time status.