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Former volunteer weighs in on debate

Svach says job of executive director for Riverfront can be done for free

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukval)
Michael Svach, the former Riverfront volunteer executive manager, says the job can be done on a volunteer basis. Mayor Jim Burke and others disagree.

DIXON – Since Michael Svach left the Riverfront Commission in 2011 as a volunteer executive director, he has heard Mayor Jim Burke say the post is too demanding for a volunteer and Riverfront Chairman Larry Reed say he couldn’t handle the position.

He denies both claims.

Svach was appointed by the City Council to the Riverfront Commission in March 2010 and assumed the role of executive manager for no pay.

His example came to light after the City Council rejected a pay raise for current Executive Manager Kay Miller, bringing about discussions of appropriate pay for the position.

The mayor did not reappoint Svach to the commission in February 2011 and he resigned as executive manager. The reason and implications differ depending on who’s telling the story, Svach said he was ousted, while Burke and Reed said Svach only wanted the position for a year.

Svach claims his run as manager shows the position can be handled by a volunteer.

“[Burke] never discussed with me why I was not reappointed,” Svach said. “He must have felt I wasn’t doing an appropriate job. I offered to come back, but I was told by Larry (Reed) it would be a conflict of interest to be on the commission and be manager at the same time.”

While Svach was executive manager and a member of the commission, he set his sights on surveying the public for input on the Riverfront, devising counts on how many people were utilizing it, and proposed an idea to generate revenue through a new membership system and outlined 20 strategies for the organization.

“Does this sound like a guy who couldn’t handle the position?” Svach asked, holding a folder filled with strategies and research on the future of the Riverfront.

Burke and Reed were both complimentary of Svach’s performance, but Reed pointed to meeting minutes from Jan. 12, 2010.

In those minutes, Svach told the commission his “year as executive manager is fast drawing to a close. ... He reported that the job is very demanding and time-consuming and the Riverfront needed to consider the idea that this needs to be a paid position. He will also be resigning from the board.”

“My recollection is that he didn’t want it anymore,” Reed said.

Svach said he told Reed he wanted to keep the job, and pointed out those comments were made after he heard he would not be reappointed.

Burke insinuated there was more to Svach not being reappointed.

“I’ve had to review about 175 various people to several different boards, and sometimes there are some very good individuals that are not well-suited to working with boards,” Burke said. “There are some people that don’t work well with groups, that’s all I can say about that.”

Burke would not provide any more details except to say Svach never expressed to him any dissatisfaction.

Svach did work closely with a committee to hire his replacement and drew up a job description and possible pay scales for the position. Josie Almassy was the committee’s recommendation, but she was going to be out of town for an extended period of time and did not get the job. Miller never interviewed in front of that committee, Svach said, but she later was named executive manager.

Svach offered again to serve as a volunteer executive manager, if only he could serve as a commission member. Since then, two others, Almassy and John Weitzel, have said they would do the job for free.

Svach argues his experience as executive manager disproves the mayor’s claim that the position cannot be handled by a volunteer.

“It’s time for a review and evaluation of the Riverfront going back to its strategies to understand what progress has been accomplished,” he said. “A volunteer executive manager is an alternative. Both of those two who have volunteered would be suitable.”

Burke refuted Svach’s run as executive manager is what led to the position receiving pay in the first place. Miller’s contract, which included a pay raise from $200 to $800 a month, was not approved by the City Council.

“He was the one who said the executive manager should be paid and he’s the one who stepped down after just a year,” Burke said. “I can’t see someone handling that position year in and year out, and we don’t want to have to reappoint the position and go searching for a volunteer every year to take it.”

When asked if he would consider taking the job again, Svach said “yes” with a condition.

“I’d have to know what’s changed for them to have me back.”

Riverfront meeting canceled

The Riverfront Commission was unable to meet Tuesday because it did not have a quorum.

Only Chairman Larry Reed and commission members John Varga Sr. and Coral Tichler were present.

The commission needs to vote on the independent maintenance contract with John Groshans, whose agreement expires at the end of the year.

Reed said the commission will try to meet Friday afternoon to vote on the contract before the City Council meets again Monday.

A member of the public asked Reed about Executive Manager Kay Miller, who is working without a contract. Her contract was not approved by the City Council, but she remains in the position and was paid $200 for November.

"My understanding is that the council voted that way because it did not have enough information," Reed said. "I haven't talked with anyone regarding it."

Mayor Jim Burke said he wants the City Council to readdress its vote, but did not indicate when that would be.

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