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Wise saw collapse in support

Last week, Sterling Alderwoman Amy Viering attended her last meeting as a city official. She offered the praise that's common at such departures. But one compliment stuck out.

At the end of her speech, she turned to City Manager Scott Shumard and said, "You're awesome."

That's pretty much the consensus on the City Council. Members don't shy away from saying Shumard is doing a good job.

That hasn't been the case with Morrison City Administrator Jim Wise.

Wise had the firm support of Mayor Roger Drey and council members Pat Zuidema and Guy Hayenga. Unfortunately for Wise, all three left office, having not run for re-election.

At his first meeting Monday, newly seated Mayor Everett Pannier announced that he would not renew Wise's contract, which the mayor has the power to do.

Last year, when Drey extended Wise's contract, the city manager received few ringing endorsements.

Some of the other council members declined to express their opinions on Wise's performance – probably figuring that if they had nothing good to say, don't say it.

One member never minced her words throughout much of Wise's 2-year reign. Marti Wood, who joined the council in 2011, has long said that residents wanted Wise out.

Privately, many contended that Wise, a former Army lieutenant colonel, wasn't diplomatic. They blamed his military background, saying he understood how to give orders but not to work with others in a democracy.

But that's not entirely fair – to the military. Two of our greatest presidents – George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower – were generals who transitioned well into civilian leadership, understanding the nuances of forming coalitions to get things done.

Let's be clear, though: Wise has his pluses. He is a smart guy who is fast learner. I was amazed how quickly he picked up on the nuances of city government, even though he hadn't run one before.

To his credit, he had a vision for an improved downtown. And he made strides in the effort to get a federal historic designation for that area.

He also seemed to keep the city's finances under control.

But Wise also got into his share of controversies. A few months after taking his job, Wise had a city police officer escort one of his critics out of a city committee meeting, even though the resident had not been disruptive. He accused the resident of being rude to a city employee earlier in the day, but he never gave details.

The attorney general later determined that Wise had violated the state's Open Meetings Act by removing a nondisruptive citizen from a meeting.

Wise also received criticism for requiring Alderwoman Wood, who has asked to see bills from the city attorney, to go to a basement meeting room to review the records, while an employee watched. She was barred from taking notes.

Another bad moment for Wise occurred last year. After proposing the city put a proposed tax on the ballot, some council members questioned the idea. The mild-mannered Alderman Michael Blean asked the obvious: How much would the tax raise?

Wise said he wouldn't tell him until members voted on the tax proposal. Audience members then heckled Wise, and the usually supportive Drey asked Wise to give the information.

Wise did.

Such incidents chipped away at Wise's support. And it was understandably hard for the council to continue backing a guy who had snubbed its own members. In the end, Pannier decided it was time for fresh leadership.

David Giuliani is a reporter for Sauk Valley Media. He can be reached at dgiuliani@saukvalley or at 800-798-4085, ext. 525. 

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