Lake Elmo seeking interim city administrator

Two more city staffers resign

Employee turnover continues to plague the city of Lake Elmo.

Six city staffers have now resigned in the past three months; the most recent being city planner Nick Johnson and deputy clerk Beckie Gumatz, who both announced resignations last Friday.

These most recent departures follow the resignations of assistant city administrator Adam Bell, city administrator Dean Zuleger, receptionist Stacy Bodsberg, and taxpayer relations manager-communications coordinator Alyssa MacLeod.

After some deliberation in a closed session, the Lake Elmo City Council unanimously voted to approve a separation agreement with the community's top employee at a special meeting June 9.

According to that agreement, Zuleger would continue as administrator for one month, would stay on in a consulting role for two months, and receive six months of his regular salary as severance pay following his departure. His annual salary is $113,000.

Zuleger and Bell cited a "hostile work environment" created by the council as their reasons for leaving. With no internal candidates stepping forward to fill the soon-to-be vacant role of administrator, the council members are hoping to hire an interim city administrator until a more permanent candidate can be found.

Council members met in a special meeting Tuesday, June 16, to discuss a city administrator transition plan.

While no formal vote was taken, the council agreed to direct city staff to collaborate with the League of Minnesota Cities to find an interim city administrator.

Mayor Mike Pearson said he had obtained a slate of candidates from the League, which he hopes the city can use to find a temporary administrator.

The League of Minnesota Cities is a membership organization that serves over 800 cities -- including Lake Elmo - "through advocacy, education and training, policy development, risk management and other services."

The council would like to hire an interim city administrator for a period of approximately six to 12 months.

At the meeting, Pearson said having an interim administrator would allow the city more time to find a longterm city administrator and move away from some of the controversy that has shined a spotlight on City Hall.

"I think it's important that we get a little bit further away from some of the excitement that's going on," he said. "I think we'd all do well, and it would give us a chance to coalesce."

Council member Justin Bloyer said he was in favor of working with the League of Minnesota Cities, and relying on it as much as possible in finding an interim administrator, noting the workload was overwhelming the dwindling city staff.

"My thoughts on this would be we try and reduce the burden on staff and the council as much as possible. I'd like to see us shed as much of the work onto the League. ... That's what we pay dues for, right?"

Bell said the timeframe for locating an interim administrator could be "done quickly."

"There are some administrators where that's what they do. They are consultants that serve as interim [administrators]," Bell said.

Bell told the council while they should look for the best interim candidate possible, it was important to not stall in the process and locate someone soon who could "hit the ground running" and keep City Hall functioning until a new longterm administrator is hired.

"Sometimes the interim can become the permanent [administrator] if they end up as being a good fit," Bell said. "But I would urge the council not to dwell too much on the interim qualifications as being a good fit for a permanent solution."

Council members are also considering using a search firm to assist in hiring a new administrator during the transition process, but did not make a decision on the matter at the June 16 meeting.

Bell said the city retained a firm to help find a city administrator in 2009, and said the whole process cost the city between $15,000 and $20,000. If the city were to hire a search firm again, Bell said the cost would most likely be paid for through the city's undesignated general fund.

Council member Julie Fliflet said she had mixed feelings about hiring a search firm, noting that in her professional career she has had both good and bad experiences working with them.

Pearson and Bloyer said they were leaning toward hiring a search firm.

The issue will likely be discussed again at the Tuesday, July 7, council meeting.

Joshua Nielsen can be reached or 651-748-7822.



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