by April Scheinoha
The city of Thief River Falls’ quest for a new city administrator has formally begun. At its meeting Tuesday, Jan. 5, the council approved several items related to the position.
The council approved advertising for the position of city administrator. The salary range is $95,000 to $125,000, a range similar to those offered in Detroit Lakes and Fergus Falls. The latter communities are also currently searching for new city administrators. Negotiations with the new hire will determine the final amount.
Applications close Friday, Feb. 5. The Committee of the Whole will review and score the applications. According to a possible timeline presented to the council, finalists would be interviewed the week of March 14 with the council approving the hire Tuesday, March 22. It is hoped that the new city administrator would start in April or May.
The council won’t reimburse finalists for their travel to Thief River Falls. The council expects to spend money on extended background checks and advertising. Human Resources Specialist LeAnn Engelstad noted that the extended background checks may cost anywhere between $400 and $800 per finalist. She indicated that the police department can do some of the basic criminal background checks.
City Administrator Larry Kruse resigned from his position with Tuesday, Dec. 15 as his last official day at work. He has accepted a position as the city administrator of Willmar.
The council also approved appointing Finance Director Angie Philipp as interim city administrator. As part of that motion, the council approved paying Philipp an additional $1,124 per month. That amount was determined since it is the midpoint between the finance director’s and city administrator’s salaries. At the Committee of the Whole meeting a night earlier, council members seemed to agree that if the job search continued beyond two months, they may hire an outside individual to serve as interim city administrator while the search proceeds.
Deputy City Clerk Jennifer Nelson will handle clerk duties of the city administrator by state statute. Those duties include writing minutes, handling agendas and signing approved documents. Philipp will handle other city administrator duties and direct Nelson.
Organizational chart and updated job
The council also approved revising the city’s organization chart and updating the job descriptions of department leaders. The job descriptions were updated to show that the department leaders’ immediate supervisor is City Council, their council committee or the city administrator as delegated by the council or council committee. The job descriptions formerly read that the city administrator was their immediate supervisor.
With regard to the city administrator portion, City Attorney Delray Sparby gave the example of a special project that may involve such delegation. He indicated that supervision isn’t automatically granted to the city administrator as it had been over the past eight years.
In November 2007, the then-council approved having the city administrator serve as the immediate supervisor of division and department leaders. That 2007 decision was the result of a split vote.
Committee of the Whole meeting
The council meeting was held a day after a lengthy Committee of the Whole meeting, where the only topics pertained to the position of city administrator. Specifically, the organizational chart and job description updates resulted from the Committee of the Whole meeting.
Electric Superintendent Dale Narlock and Barry Froiland, management information systems director/billing manager, advocated changing the organizational chart.
Narlock asked whether the council planned to switch back to a city clerk instead of a city administrator.
Mayor Brian Holmer replied that he felt the city needed a city administrator, not a city clerk. He indicated that city clerks typically serve smaller cities.
Council Member Don Sollom said both former City Administrator Roger DeLap and former City Clerk-Treasurer Jerry Wigness indicated that the city has grown too much to only have a city clerk.
Holmer attributed any past problems to a breakdown in communication, not a problem with the organizational structure. He also referred to the personality of the person in the position of city administrator.
“Now would be the time to do it instead of later,” Froiland replied about changing the organizational chart.
Froiland and Narlock asked the council to go back to the original organizational chart.
“Wouldn’t it work better if we’re on an even playing field?” asked Narlock, who noted the council committees would make decisions.
Both Philipp and Engelstad noted the potential problems that could result. Philipp referred to an additional four committee meetings per month. Froiland refuted that possibility, apparently mentioning the council’s past schedule of two Committee of the Whole meetings each month.
Engelstad indicated that small items may lead to additional committee meetings. She added that the council could micromanage department leaders or pigeonhole them whereas a city administrator could act as a buffer between the council and department leaders.
Later, Council Member Josh Hagen indicated that a city administrator could also do that.
Narlock and Water Systems Superintendent Wayne Johnson referred to the positive aspects of switching back to the original organizational chart. Narlock noted that the council needs to know the truth from department leaders.
Johnson indicated that city administrators may change every two, three years. He also referred to Kruse not having an interest or aptitude for utilities.
For his part, Community Services Director Mark Borseth said the only way either scenario will work is by hiring the right person as city administrator and showing mutual respect between all parties.
Kruse is no longer serving as the city administrator, but his vacation time continues to vex Council Member Jerald Brown. At the Dec. 15 council meeting, Brown voiced his concerns regarding Kruse’s use of vacation time. The council approved Kruse’s use of the remainder of his vacation days. It is believed that he would have vacation through mid-March.
At the Committee of the Whole meeting, Brown encouraged council members to be wide awake when they negotiate with the finalist.
Holmer replied that the use of vacation was included in Kruse’s contract.
With a raised voice, Sollom said that Brown was out of line at the Dec. 15 council meeting.
Brown replied that Kruse used his sick leave to look for a new job. When asked by Engelstad how he knew such a thing, Brown said he made phone calls.
Holmer then asked the council to get back to the topic at hand. However, the topic cropped up again with Holmer eventually saying that Kruse isn’t using any more vacation hours than he is due.
Brown seemed to disagree, stating he counted 405 hours. Engelstad replied that holidays are included and Kruse isn’t being treated any differently than any other city employee.