SHORELINE — A “special” Council meeting during the Council’s holiday break lived up to the adjective as members embarked on a discussion of the interim city manager hiring process.
In a room packed with concerned residents, about 17 people addressed the Council, most of whom opposed the new majority’s acceptance of former city manager Steve Burkett’s resignation.
“We eliminated a well-qualified city manager,” resident La Nita Wacker said. “For the first time in years, I am speechless.”
At the last Council meeting, on Dec. 12, Burkett’s resignation was approved with a 4-3 vote and a motion to hire resident George Mauer as interim city manager was tabled.
Acting city manager Bob Olander updated the Council on the hiring process for the interim city manager. At the previous Council meeting, members voted unanimously to conduct a background check and personal and professional reference review for Mauer.
Olander said Mauer has signed the necessary release form and the city is contracting with the firm of Prothman and Associates to conduct an independent reference check and background review, which are required before Mauer can be hired.
Council member Bob Ransom, however, said Mauer is no longer being considered for city manager. Rather, the majority has now decided to create an entirely new position for Mauer, which would include conducting an organizational audit and recruitment for a city manager, Ransom said. The position of interim city manager would then be filled by Olander, he said. The proposals will be presented for approval at the next meeting, on Jan. 3.
“The public needs to know that Mauer is not being considered for city manager,” Ransom said, “but for a specially created position.”
Deputy mayor Scott Jepsen responded that this was the first time the public has been notified about the majority’s change of mind regarding Mauer no longer being considered for interim city manager, but for a new position.
After a failed motion to table the discussion until Jan. 3, Council member Rich Gustafson asked why he was not notified about the Dec. 12 decision to accept Burkett’s resignation.
“I didn’t have a clue until I got to the meeting that night,” Gustafson said. “There needs to be no hidden agendas.”
Ransom said he had little time on Dec. 12 and although he did notify Burkett, former mayor Ron Hansen (who resigned as mayor on Dec. 12) and Jepsen, he was not able to contact Gustafson. Time was spent working on the resignation agreement with lawyers, he said.
“I apologize, but it was all done in one day,” Ransom said.
Gustafson said that at the city staff’s Christmas party, Ransom announced that the new majority intended to hire Olander as the interim city manager, again without discussing the decision with the entire Council.
“Why was the decision made to hire Olander and not Mauer?” Gustafson asked.
Ransom said that due to concern among city staff, the majority tried to negotiate a compromise.
“I was trying to relieve tension among staff when I made the announcement,” Ransom said.
Way said she has heard “great things” about Olander’s willingness to work with staff and she was struck by the potential of a win-win situation. She said Mauer has the confidence of many people in the community and he is willing to come to the next Council meeting to take questions.
Olander said he is “more than willing” to serve as interim city manager. He said his recommendation is that whoever the Council hires should have prior experience as a city manager.
Due to previous travel plans, Council member Maggie Fimia was not in town for the special meeting.