City council work session assigns new duty: Search for city manager

OSAGE CITY – After meeting in their first regular monthly work session last Tuesday, as set by a new ordinance, Osage City council members moved several topics of discussion to the agenda of their regular meeting tomorrow evening. Last week’s session was attended by all of the council members except for Rob Rowe.

The evening’s work was dominated by discussion of the city’s pay matrix system, but the council agreed immediately on a concern presented by Osage City Council Member Ed Mueller.

“We’re losing our city manager in approximately 72 or 73 days,” Mueller said. “I’d like to get started on finding a new city manager.”

Osage City Manager Linda Jones confirmed after the meeting that she had personally notified council members in December that she would be retiring effective March 31. Jones had served as city manager since February 2012, prior to which she had served as city clerk for 17 years.

Noting previous searches for a city manager involved contracting with an outside firm to conduct the search process, Mueller said he thought the council could conduct the search.

“I can’t see spending the $8,000 to $10,000 to hire somebody to find us a city manager, go through their resumes, when we could do that, I believe,” Mueller said.

Osage City Mayor Quintin Robert agreed, saying that past search firms had “basically solicited resumes and gave them to us to look at.”

With a consensus of the council to forgo hiring a search firm, Robert said he and Jones would look at procedures utilized in past city manager searches and present the information at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The council hired Jones to replace former city manager Nick Hernandez after first contracting with The Austin Peters Group Inc. to conduct a candidate search. The council cancelled the city manager search a month prior to hiring Jones, and after which cancelled the contract with Austin Peters.

Osage City Council Member Linda Carson brought up the discussion on the city employees’ pay rates, saying, “We might have some employees not happy with salaries.”

The council has previously discussed, and updated in 2013, a wage matrix step program that determines the level of employees’ wages depending on years of service and job classification.

After Carson’s comment, city employee James Palicio began addressing the council and passing out paperwork that he said showed employees’ cost of living increases compared to the wage matrix, which he complained had not been appropriately updated to include the cost of living increases.

Palicio agreed that the wage matrix was updated in 2013, “but in the whole meantime, we have lost wages because nobody updated it. We were losing wages.”

The council indicated agreement that the wage matrix had not been updated since 2008, but also agreed with Robert, who indicated the 2013 update was to include the cost of living increases in the matrix.

Although Robert directed city treasurer Robyn Liebelt to examine the matrix to ensure that it had been updated according to the council’s direction, Carson said she didn’t believe that would satisfy the employees. She said that although her husband works for the city, she was bringing up the issue for all city employees.

Carson said she had previously brought the issue about updating the matrix to the council’s and treasurer’s attention, but had been ignored.

“I have the emails, I have documents that show that, and you said we don’t do it that way,” Carson said, appearing to direct her comments toward Leibelt.

When Robert questioned why Carson hadn’t aired her concern, she responded, “Because you keep shutting me up. I’m kind of getting tired of being shut up.”

“I have been?” Robert asked.

Osage City Council Member Ed Berends wound down the pay matrix discussion by saying, “We just have to make sure it don’t happen again.”

The wage matrix is on the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting under “old business”.

While the discussion bounced from one topic to another, some council members stated topics they wish to cover during the upcoming monthly work sessions.

Berends said his “big complaint is on codes and ordinances. We’re turning businesses away.”

He told of a business person who wanted to start a fur buying business in town but was discouraged by the city’s regulations and code enforcement officer.

“He was quite turned off by the code enforcer by the way he approached him and talked to him,” Berends said.

Berends comments led to further discussion about the city’s code enforcement officer, with Osage City Council Member Duane Peroo saying, “We need to find something different. This guy’s a nuisance – all I hear is complaints about him. We don’t need a code enforcement officer in Osage City, Kansas.”

The mayor responded, “That would be a bad plan, people.”

“If we’re going to have building codes, we’ve got to have a professional inspector,” Robert said.

Though the discussion centered on eliminating regulations, council members Leroy Stromgren and Bruce Schoepflin spoke in favor of adding regulations that would require newly constructed businesses to build sidewalks.

Schoepflin had inquired about whether the new Dollar General Store would have a sidewalk along Ninth Street. It was noted that city regulations require property owners to reconstruct any sidewalk that has been removed or damaged, but no regulations required sidewalks to be built during new construction. With Schoepflin asking if the city could require sidewalks, Stromgren said he’d support such an ordinance.

Stromgren also had ideas about topics for future work sessions including the city’s trash service, and fees charged for utility connects and disconnects. Stromgren also asked Jones to conduct a survey of city employees to “see if they’re going to retire – just ask, so when the new city manager comes in, he’ll know.”

Robert closed the work session telling the council the sessions could be more productive if everyone knew the subjects to be discussed, which would also allow city staff to provide needed information.

“The problem I’ve seen tonight, we have the questions,” he said, “but if nobody knows what they’re going to be, there’s no chance to get the answers.”

Robert suggested council members could list topics they’d like to discuss and provide it to city staff.

“If you got some ideas of what you want to talk about, it would be nice so the rest of us know,” Robert said, “so we can have a conversation.”

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