City Council weighs filling two interim positions

The Jefferson City Council is considering whether to fill two of the city’s four high level interim positions, but held off on making any final decisions Monday night.

At a City Council work session Monday, Interim City Administrator Drew Hilpert presented a possible plan to fill the public works director position and the fire chief position at the request of Mayor Eric Struemph, who was not present Monday.

The public works director position has been vacant since April, when former director Roger Schwartze resigned. City Engineer Matt Morasch has been performing the job in the interim, but because he lives outside city limits, could not be considered for the full-time position without some type of exception or code change.

In May, the council approved a bill expanding residency requirements for certain department directors to a 15-mile radius around Jefferson City. But that expansion did not apply to the public works director, city administrator, city clerk, fire chief or police chief.

Earlier this month, Hilpert discussed the position with the Council Committee on Administration, saying the city has three good candidates: Britt Smith, operations division director; David Bange, engineering supervisor; and Morasch.

Hilpert said the city is unlikely to have an extra $130,000 for the salary of a

public works director in the near future and hiring from within would allow the city to eliminate the city engineer position and reshuffle the department to make up for the loss.

“None of them have asked to do this,” Hilpert said of the internal candidates. “(Struemph) would like to close this gap.”

The council opted to take a couple of weeks to consider the issue, but Hilpert said the intention would be to announce an internal search for the director position with the understanding that the council would entertain an exemption from the residency requirement or a change to the city’s radius requirement and what positions are eligible for it.

Council members noted by combining the city engineer and director position, either engineering or supervising of the department would suffer and Hilpert agreed. But, Hilpert said, the council could vote to reinstate the city engineer position in a future year, once finances improve.

Hilpert said he would bring the issue back to the council in a couple of weeks for a decision.

Also discussed Monday was how to fill the vacant fire chief position, which has been filled on an interim basis with Jason Turner, the division chief of prevention and public information. Hilpert said Struemph has met with the department and would support an internal search for a new fire chief to see if there are qualified candidates. If none are found, Hilpert said Struemph would support opening up the search to external candidates.

Hilpert said the benefit to an internal search is a qualified candidate likely would not be as expensive as an outside candidate, however it would remove an existing employee from their position in a time when the city is unlikely to refill that vacancy.

Some council members said they would rather hold off on a search completely for now, considering the city’s financial situation and outlook for the next fiscal year, even though the council approved six months of a fire chief salary in the 2014 budget.

But last week, the council was told to be aware that the 2015 fiscal year would require $900,000 in additional funds.

First Ward Councilman Rick Prather said that announcement changes things.

“We didn’t know about the financial mess we’re in,” Prather said.

The council opted to hold off on any decision on the fire chief position until a new city administrator is hired.

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