MORRISON – Soon after he takes office, Mayor-elect Everett Pannier likely will have a big decision to make – whether to keep City Administrator Jim Wise.
Last May, Mayor Roger Drey, who decided not to seek re-election, reappointed Wise, a decision that received few ringing endorsements.
A year before, the City Council entered into an employment contract with Wise. It gave the mayor the power to renew the agreement each year.
The mayor must renew before the contract’s expiration on May 31, or within 7 days after.
Pannier, who handily defeated three opponents in Tuesday’s election, said either the current mayor or the new one could make the decision on Wise. He said he assumed Drey would wait until the new council and mayor took office.
“Once we are all sworn in on May 14, one of the first obvious things would be to review the contract with the current administrator,” Pannier said.
He said he didn’t know the feelings of the four council members who will remain or the four new ones.
“I think it’s important that, as mayor, I’m listening,” he said. “I want to hear from the council people I’m working with. That will help me make my decision.”
Wise couldn’t be reached for comment.
Curt Bender, Dale Eizenga and David Helms – all of whom were elected Tuesday – were neutral on Wise.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to work with [Wise], so I don’t have an opinion one way or the other,” Bender said.
Helms said he would trust Pannier’s judgment.
“I’ve known Everett for years. I have a lot of faith in Everett,” he said. “I think [Wise] does some good things, but there are other things I’m not sure of.”
Alderwoman pushes for Wise’s ouster
Alderwoman Marti Wood, who finished second in the mayoral race with 21 percent of the vote, has long opposed Wise.
“I’ve heard way too many people say that he causes too many issues. People who come to the meetings think he treats aldermen degradingly,” said Wood, whose term expires in 2015. “A lot of people on the street say we need to get rid of him.”
Asked whether he supported extending Wise’s contract, Alderman Leo Sullivan said, “We need to talk about it.”
Other council members whose terms are expiring in 2015 couldn’t be reached for comment.
Wise has received credit for moving long-stalled city efforts to take care of run-down buildings. And he succeeded in getting a local group to take a previously crumbling Main Street building off the city’s hands.
But he also knocked heads along the way – occasionally asserting authority that some council members thought he didn’t have.
He had a police officer remove a resident from a city meeting because, Wise said, the man was rude to a city employee earlier in the day. Later, the attorney general found that Wise had violated the Open Meetings Act by removing that resident.
In August, he proposed the council put a tax increase on the ballot to pay for street improvements.
During the discussion, Alderman Michael Blean wanted to know how much the tax hike would generate.
Wise would not to give that information, saying he would wait until the council voted on a motion opposing the tax proposal, prompting heckles from the audience. Mayor Drey told the audience to quiet down, but asked the administrator to provide the information. Wise complied.
Members voted 5-2 against the tax proposal.
‘Bumps in the road’ in Morrison
After a closed session to discuss Wise last May, three council members declined to even comment on the administrator.
Alderwoman Sarah Thorndike, whose term expires next month, said at the time that she supported the mayor. But when asked for her assessment on Wise’s performance, she declined to comment.
“That’s not my place,” she said. “That’s the mayor’s place.”
Alderman David Rose, whose term will end next month, said after the closed session that he supported Drey’s decision to reappoint Wise, but he acknowledged complaints about the administrator. He credited Wise with getting Morrison out of a bad financial situation.
“There have been bumps in the road,” Rose said. “That’s been obvious. Read the paper.”
Alderwoman Pat Zuidema said Wise had done a “pretty good” job, although she acknowledged bumping heads with the administrator a couple of times.
Go to www.saukvalley.com to read a copy of Morrison City Administrator Jim Wise's employment contract.