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Local Editorials

SVM EDITORIAL: Trying again to hire, keep a good manager

The Dixon City Council must move forward with its mandate to effectively implement the city manager form of government as demanded by voters who were shocked by the Rita Crundwell scandal. After Cole O’Donnell’s firing, city leaders must do a better job finding the right professional to make it work.

It all happened pretty fast.

“Council set to fire manager,” the headline shouted in last Saturday’s SV Weekend.

“Contract terminated,” blared the headline in Tuesday’s paper.

With that, Cole O’Donnell was dismissed by the Dixon City Council as Dixon’s first city manager. Only 19 months into the job, too.

It was a 3-to-2 vote, with Councilman Mike Venier and two new councilmen, Dennis Considine and Ryan Marshall (they joined the council in May), voting to fire O’Donnell, and Mayor Li Arellano Jr. and Councilman Kevin Marx opposed.

At this point, there are more questions than answers.

O’Donnell was a well-qualified candidate; why didn’t this work out?

Why pay him severance (5 months’ salary, about $53,542, and 5 months of health benefits) if he didn’t fulfill the contract requirement that he move to the city?

Why were Venier, Considine and Marshall mum at the meeting about their reasons for firing O’Donnell? They left it to Mayor Arellano to later point out issues with communication and O’Donnell’s failure to move to Dixon after being given an extension to do so.

To us, the action came out of the blue, and we don’t like the way it looks, although O’Donnell must have seen it coming. He left the office July 26 on a paid leave and didn’t attend Monday’s meeting.

While answers are few, we observe that the two new councilmen, Considine and Marshall, provided the deciding votes in O’Donnell’s ouster.

We observe that transitioning to a city manager form of government, as ordered by Dixon voters in 2014, has not been easy.

It’s been pricey, too. The council has now approved its second severance payout, after previously giving its interim city manager, David Nord, 6 months of severance pay and benefits of $65,840 after O’Donnell was hired.

We know one thing for certain. The professionalization of Dixon city government must continue as a bulwark against good-old-boy government, led by well-meaning amateurs, which allowed the theft of nearly $54 million over 2 decades by ex-Comptroller Rita Crundwell.

We call for an open, transparent and nationwide search for city manager candidates.

We call on the council to hire an experienced professional (which appears to be their intention, as they're advertising for someone with 5 to 7 years of experience). This can’t be someone’s first job.

We call on City Council members to have a full understanding of what their expectations are for the next city manager, clearly communicate those expectations, and set forth some form of review standards to be sure those expectations are being met (to lessen the chance of again having to pay thousands of dollars in severance!).

And we call on the mayor and all City Council members to reassure doubting Dixonites that the city manager form of government will be given their full support.

In January 2016, we wrote the following in an editorial welcoming O’Donnell to Dixon:

“O’Donnell possesses impressive credentials and has worked a number of years as administrator at other cities, the last one being East Moline.

“We believe he has the right stuff to make Dixon’s change of course, from the commission form to city manager form of government, a success.”

In the new council’s eyes, O’Donnell didn’t have the right stuff.

The council must now find someone who does.

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