Council discusses interim positions at City Hall

The firing of City Administrator Nathan Nickolaus creates yet another high level interim position in City Hall.

The City Council voted 8-2 to fire Nickolaus in a closed session Monday and opted to promote city attorney Drew Hilpert on an interim basis.

The city administrator position now is added to a growing number of interim positions at City Hall, including finance director, public works director and fire chief, plus the absence of a communications manager, which exists but is not filled by anyone, either interim or permanent.

While a majority of council members declined to discuss specifics about the closed session, citing confidentiality and personnel matters, they noted they believed it was the right thing to do and hoped for the best when it comes to the perception of stability within City Hall.

“It was one of the hardest decisions that I’ve had to make in my life,” said 1st Ward Councilman Rick Prather.

Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner said he took no pleasure in the actions Monday night, but it was time to part ways. Scrivner said there absolutely is concern about the perception of stability within City Hall, though it’s not a new issue to face.

“Perception is ... what we’re subject to,” Scrivner said. “If (people) are going to have confidence, they have to perceive that things are being well-run, so you always are concerned about that.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Larry Henry said at this point, he’s not concerned because the city has staff to take on the responsibilities of each position and keep the city moving.

“I don’t think it’s a major concern,” Henry said.

Second Ward Councilman Shawn Schulte also said he is not concerned, but the council needs to move forward and fill the needed positions.

Second Ward Councilman J. Rick Mihalevich said there’s always a concern about perception, but noted he wouldn’t call it a “crisis.”

“We have super staff and excellent department heads,” Mihalevich said. “This puts a bit more burden on everyone.”

Fifth Ward Councilman Ralph Bray said he is not concerned either as the city has “an abundance of good quality candidates” and excellent staff at City Hall.

Third Ward Councilman Ken Hussey, who along with 4th Ward Councilwoman Carrie Carroll voted against Nickolaus’ firing, said he didn’t feel comfortable with voting for the motion as presented considering the information Monday night.

“It just didn’t feel like a situation where I was comfortable supporting that motion quite yet,” Hussey said.

Hussey said he hopes there are no issues with the perception of stability at City Hall, and he looks forward to a new city administrator taking part in hiring a new finance director and fire chief, hopefully within the next year.

“I think that we have a lot to offer as a city,” Hussey said. “We’re an attractive opportunity for potential candidates, and I would hope potential candidates would look at this as a stable opportunity.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Carlos Graham said he thought about the issue of stability during the closed session, but once the council can hire a new city administrator, the other positions will fall in line.

Mayor Eric Struemph said the city has good people filling interim positions and a wealth of institutional knowledge to keep the city moving forward, and he’s not concerned about the perception of stability in City Hall.

“We will make it through this,” Struemph said. “I think morale (at City Hall) is at a lower point probably than it’s been ... We have a lot of longevity with our city staff and that really speaks volume to the true morale.”

First Ward Councilman James Branch declined to comment.

Today's related stories:

Mayor cites experience, unreached goals in firing of city administrator

Hilpert named interim city administrator

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