City council mulls future of city manager position

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By Shelia Tomkins

The Guttenberg city council, meeting in special session on May 22, approved a budget amendment for the current fiscal year and discussed the future of the now-vacant city manager position.

On hand for the meeting were Mayor Russ Loven, Assistant City Manager Jamie Blume, and councilmembers Steve Friedlein, Jane Parker, Virginia Saeugling, Fred Schaub and Austin Greve.

City manager vacancy

The city has been without a city manager since the summer of 2016 when then-city manager Mary Willett resigned. Since that time, those duties and responsibilities have been handled by Mayor Russ Loven and the city staff. 

At Monday night's meeting the Mayor told the council that as the end of the fiscal year draws near, the time has come to decide on a plan for future leadership. Loven's term expires this year, and he has indicated he will not seek reelection. "In my opinion we have operated very successfully this past year without a city manager because of an outstanding city office staff as well as the rest of the experienced city operations leadership and staff," said the mayor.

"Do we need a city manager or do we want to plan?" asked Loven, who noted that the community has been served by a city manager since 1957. 

"There are things that need leadership," said the mayor. He cited issues that will need attention, such as transportation, including the Garber bridge project; representation on county and regional groups that seek to improve employment and housing opportunities; economic planning and development, including the future of the municipal hospital; and capital spending, such as the upcoming water line project on River Park Drive. Other major areas of attention include the proposed new swimming pool, renovation of the municipal building and decisions on the future of the city's electrical power system.

Mayor Loven pointed out four possible strategies: a full-time mayor, a shared city manager position, an enhanced city clerk position or a full-time city manager.

Of the first option, Loven said that there are very few cities with a full-time mayor. To make that possible, Guttenberg city code would need to be changed. He also noted that the position would be subject to election every four years.

As for the second option, a shared city manager position, Mayor Loven said he is not aware of any communities that share city managers.

The third choice, an enhanced city clerk position,  is "basically what we're doing right now," he said. The city clerk performs the duties of a city manager and the mayor supervises department heads,  handles employment issues and other duties.

The final option is that of a full-time city manager. "After much study and time spent working at it, I've come to the conclusion we need a full-time city manager," recommended the Mayor. 

"If we want the city to grow, or get young people to come back we need to work on more jobs and housing," added the mayor. "I would say the new city manager, ideally, would be qualified or experienced in economic development."

He noted that it is becoming more of a challenge to find a qualified candidate. If the council decides to seek a full-time manager, he said the next question is to decide on whether to use a consultant to find one. The city manager position has been budgeted for in the 2017-18 fiscal year. 

Mayor Loven put forward the idea of holding a town hall meeting for residents to give input on their thoughts for city leadership. The council concurred, and plans were made to announce a public forum (The forum has been set for Wednesday, June 7, at 7 p.m. at the municipal building auditorium. See story elsewhere in this issue.) 

Budget amendment

The council approved a budget amendment for the current fiscal year; the action was due to three increases in expenses. Flood control utilities increased by $8,000 due to the Mississippi River remaining high all winter which resulted in the need to run the flood pumps year round, a new occurrence for the city. Flood control legal expenses increased $20,000 since the Corps of Engineers and FEMA required detailed responses for the levee review. The responses required more time and attention from IIW Engineers than was anticipated. The third increase was in ambulance vehicle repair expense, due to $4,000 in repair bills.  

Other business

The council amended the transient merchant ordinance, giving the city clerk the authority to handle requests for exceptions. This covers situations such as food vendors at special events.

The purchase of two automated external defibrillators at a cost of $1,350 each was approved by the council.

The city will be requesting proposals from firms to do the annual city audit exam for 2017-2018.

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