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Dixon begins hunt for new city manager

Community members to play larger role in search committee

Dixon City Manger Cole O'Donnell speaks during a City Council meeting after being sworn in Jan. 2, 2016. The council voted Monday to terminate O'Donnell's contract with the city.
Dixon City Manger Cole O'Donnell speaks during a City Council meeting after being sworn in Jan. 2, 2016. The council voted Monday to terminate O'Donnell's contract with the city.

DIXON – The city is hoping to hire a new city manager by the end of next month, and a group of community members will be narrowing the list of candidates.

The City Council fired City Manager Cole O’Donnell on Monday in a 3-2 vote – he had been on paid leave since July 26 – and the termination included severance of 5 months salary, about $53,542, along with 5 months of health benefits.

O’Donnell was Dixon’s first city manager under the new form of government, which began in 2015, although former City Administrator David Nord had the position in the interim.

The council gave Nord a severance package of 6 months salary and benefits totaling $65,840.

O’Donnell and Nord were the council’s top two finalists from a pool of 39 applicants. Two community members were part of the search in that they accompanied the finalists in a tour of the city and later gave their impressions, both leaning toward O’Donnell.

This time, Mayor Li Arellano Jr. said, community members representing business, nonprofit organizations, education and clergy have been tapped to serve on the search committee and will help to whittle candidates to a number of finalists.

“It adds a real aspect to the community involvement part of the process,” Arellano said.

More than a dozen community members were selected by each of the city councilmen.

The council and city staff will meet with the finalists, and the ultimate hire will come down to a majority council vote.

Paul Greufe, the city’s human resources consultant out of Davenport, Iowa, will be leading the nationwide search and will be present throughout the interviewing process, and city attorney Rob LeSage will be an ex-officio member of the search committee.

City Clerk Becky Fredericks and Amanda Bradshaw, assistant to the city manager, also will oversee the process.

The job description is similar to that in the first search because a large part of the position comes from state statute, but it also includes team building and bolstering staff morale, two concerns that came up during the firing, he said.

Arellano and Councilman Kevin Marx voted against the termination.

“We knew there were going to be hard decisions needed to be made, and we wanted a strong person, and he was,” Arellano said. “It was certainly a challenge on the staff.”

The job will be easier for the next person coming in because of the ground work O’Donnell laid during the governmental transition, he said.

The job listing, a 7-page brochure of requirements and other details, was posted Friday. It also requires that the applicant move to the city within a year of being hired.

O’Donnell’s contract required him to move with his family to Dixon after a year of starting work, but the council extended that deadline to July 1. He rented an apartment prior to that deadline, but did not put his home in East Moline on the market.

Nord, who was hired in 2013, was given a deadline of Jan. 1, 2016, to move to Dixon, and Arellano said that additional time was given because it was known that the city was likely heading toward a change to the city-manager form of government and that Nord might not be the best fit.

The three councilmen who voted O’Donnell out of office – Dennis Considine, Ryan Marshall and Mike Venier – have not publicly explained their reasons for the decision, and all media inquiries regarding the firing are being directed to the mayor and city attorney, as stated in the severance agreement.

Nord’s separation did not include a media clause, but the situation with O’Donnell was not a “perfect break” and was a more contentious vote among the council, Arellano said.

“I think the thinking was, given discussions during the last couple months and the decision to separate, they wanted someone who would speak respectfully of everyone’s sides,” he said.

Although the agreement does not prohibit the councilmen from speaking about the issue to constituents or during open meetings and other public forums, they made no comments prior to or after the vote.

The council approved Dixon Police Chief Danny Langloss to be interim city manager. He was interim city administrator for 9 months prior to hiring Nord and has a master’s in law enforcement administration.

Police Lts. Clay Whelan and Brad Sibley are running the department while Langloss is away.

City manager applications are due Sept. 8, and Arellano said they hope to offer the job to someone by Sept. 29. Starting salary ranges from $120,000 to $140,000.

“We want key leaders involved, and we want the timeline to be aggressive,” he said.

The contract details and start date will be worked out once they choose a candidate.

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