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Mayor: Manager decision's up to council
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MONROE - Mayor Ron Marsh says he wants to stay quiet about what the Monroe City Council should do about replacing the vacant administrator position.

"(The Council) has to talk and do their homework, know the pluses and minuses, and draw a conclusion that best fits this city of Monroe," he said Wednesday in an interview with the Times, adding he does not want to stifle the creativity of aldermen.

But in a letter Marsh wrote and handed to aldermen after Tuesday's council meeting, the mayor wrote "the combination of (hiring) a human resource person and a full-time mayor would provide this city with a far greater opportunity for growth. The day-to-day operations of the city would be much more fluid, flexible and cohesive."

The matter of filling the administrator position was revived Tuesday when Alderman Mark Coplien suggested the two city committees and the treasurer work to see if there is "any way, shape or form" the city could come up with money to hire a city manager. Some aldermen expressed support for Coplien's idea following the meeting.

The city's first administrator, Mark Vahlsing, was fired by the council last May for a failure to perform some of his responsibilities, most notably human resource duties. The position has remained vacant, and was left out of the 2009 budget because the city couldn't afford it, aldermen said.

But about one month ago Marsh was designated by a city committee as the "go-to" person for department heads at City Hall and concerns were expressed Tuesday about how city government is operating.

"We do need an administrator," Alderman Chuck Schuringa said. "We have people stumbling all over each other."

Coplien said he used the term "manager" rather than "administrator" because he believes hiring a manager could be more economical. The position would come with fewer responsibilities, he said.

But Marsh said having a manager or an administrator would cost about the same. "We're talking big numbers," he said.

And, he said, "under a true city manager concept" the position would have "considerably more" responsibilities than an administrator. "There's a big difference between an office manager and a city manager," Marsh said.

State statutes dictate that a charter ordinance, needing approval of two-thirds of the council, would be required to create a city manager position. The council enacted an ordinance in 2006 to create the administrator position.

In his letter, Marsh addressed what he termed a recent "outcry by some" that the city needs an administrator to deal with "various issues" that have arisen.

"How soon do we forget!" he wrote, going on to say that a number of current issues and others yet to be addressed were created while the city had a director of general government and then an administrator from 1989 until last year. He said Vahlsing "did very little in resolving prior issues. ... In fact, we not only had to deal with them, but also with new issues he created." He did not elaborate on those issues.

Marsh told the Times he would not speak out about how the council should configure city government, but would help in his own way by gathering information about managers from surrounding cities, mentioning Whitewater, Lake Mills and Janesville as cities that have managers. He said he would like to have city managers talk to the council about the pros and cons.

"They should look in and see before they shut the door," Marsh said.

Marsh, in his letter, provides three configuration options. The first is to hire an administrator or manager, which he says would require budgeting between $175,000 and $200,000. Among other things, he said "the individual will be an outsider" who will "take time to learn what our city really needs."

He also noted that the "life span" of an administrator was about five years, creating a loss of consistency between one administrator and another.

His second option is to hire a human resource position, which he said would be budgeted at around $70,000 to $80,000. The third option was to change the mayor's position to full-time and a four-year term, budgeting around $70,000 to $80,000.

"The mayor would already know what has gone on within our city and where it needs to go," he wrote. "He or she is a citizen of our city. Thus, has a vested interest in the outcome of decisions made by you." He said an elected mayor would have "no learning curve" and "no lapse in changeover from one to another."

"Do the math," Marsh wrote. "You can see it is more cost-effective not hiring an administrator and the City of Monroe has much more control over their destiny."

Marsh told the Times that the budget would limit the city's ability to hire an administrator. The city can't add money to its budget, he said, without violating state-mandated revenue caps.

He said cuts could be made, "but the cuts would be people, personnel."

Marsh believes council members first must talk about what they need from any person they hire for the position.

Marsh compared it to getting a bucket before filling it with water.

"This needs to be looked at and weighed. They need to decide exactly what they want in this position, and to really get done. Once they determine that, they can determine what form to get that accomplished," Marsh said.

In order for that to happen, Marsh thinks council members, and the community, need to keep their minds primed for creativity.

That means he shouldn't make any suggestions that could sway judgments, he said.

"We have to throw everything out on the table. We may not all agree, but we'll come together," he said with a smile.

Marsh finished his letter to aldermen with a plea. "Don't allow some individuals to take you back in time to what they would call the good old days."