A large crowd gathered at the Community Center Wednesday, Sept. 28, to show their support for the Clintonville city administrator.
The council responded by voting to keep the position in place.
The Common Council held a special meeting to hear public input regarding the petition to remove the city administrator. Business owners, teachers, local officials and concerned citizens spoke on behalf of City Administrator Lisa Kuss.
The discussion began with John Moericke thanking all those who signed his petition. “I had no doors slammed in my face and it was very well accepted,” Moericke said.
Former Mayor Rich Beggs spoke after Moericke, leading a long list of people who spoke to affirm their support for the city administrator position and for Kuss. All of those who addressed the council after Moericke were in support of the city administrator position; the positive comments continued for over two hours.
“Eliminating the city administrator position is an illogical idea for a budget cut,” Beggs said. “I have worked with Wally Thiel, who was our first city administrator. He is a good man. Then, we got Lisa Kuss-and she’s far better and more efficient and has done far more in her time here.
“It is extremely difficult to educate the public on the importance of this position,” Beggs continued. “In my six years as mayor, I saw the need for this position. Out of 1,800 voting adults, 250 signed the petition. That’s a small fraction. You could get a petition to eliminate O’Henry’s from the gas station if you wanted to.
“This is a democratic republic. The elected council members are our representatives. Vote this petition down permanently, and let’s never speak of it again,” Beggs said.
Rick Recktenwald, plant manager at Walker Forge, spoke soon after Beggs.
“We are advancing our business at a pace never seen before,” Recktenwald said. “When it comes to city business, Walker Forge doesn’t get a vote. The 250 people that work at Walker Forge don’t get to vote on this issue. There are many other businesses that don’t get to vote, but bring jobs and add to the local economy. Without a city administrator, we would be a mere shadow of what we are now. That position is our voice. I don’t know how Walker Forge could do what we do without that voice.”
A series of letters from local business professionals were also read.
“I have worked with the city administrator in Clintonville for over six years and have found that position to be a valuable liaison for manufacturers in this community. Clintonville is blessed to have the amount of industry that they do for a community this size. That does not happen by accident,” wrote Nate Leider, vice president of operations at Creative Converting. “Approximately three years ago, Creative Converting, which is part of Hoffmaster Group Incorporated, had two manufacturing facilities, one in Appleton, and one here in Clintonville. We decided that we needed to either consolidate the two operations to one, or take the production off shore. Our final decision was to expand the Clintonville facility and consolidate both operations here in Clintonville. This added approximately 162 jobs to this community and greatly expanded the tax base for the community. The city administrator played a very big role in helping to convince us that this was the best decision for our company.
“It is my opinion that eliminating the city administrator position for the City of Clintonville would be a significant blow to its future economic development,” Leider concluded.
“We recently learned that there has been a petition filed to consider eliminating the city administrator position,” wrote A. Joseph Neiner, CEO of Seagrave Fire Apparatus, LLC. “As one of the largest employers and tax payers in the city, we find this action inadvisable.
“Before this economic downturn, FWD Seagrave was growing at a steady pace, and it became apparent that we needed to expand our facilities to meet the demand for fire apparatus and specialty vehicles,” Neiner continued. “The city administrator was instrumental in our expansion efforts and our ability to construct a 137,000 square foot assembly facility which was completed in 2006.
“The community needs a liaison between business and government. When an issue arises, we expect to be able to call the city administrator for assistance or answers,” commented Neiner. “While it is important for our company that this position is maintained, it also indirectly benefits the community. We hope the City Council sees the value of this position and does not place this on the spring ballot as a referendum question.”
Bill Zimmerman, owner of Office Outfitters in Waupaca, also wrote a letter to the City Council.
“From 1994 to 2008, I was Vice President of Marketing at Converting Inc. and commuted to Clintonville from Waupaca,” Zimmerman wrote. “It is no accident that Clintonville is a fantastic place for any business to call ‘home’. The City of Clintonville, led by Lisa Kuss, the City Administrator, values the jobs manufacturers bring to the community and it has been my experience that Lisa finds the right balance of creating a positive environment for business, while being a good steward of the city’s fiscal and natural resources.
“During my tenure at Converting, we went through several expansions, and with some of the ‘growth spurts’, there were issues related to land use or infrastructure that needed to be resolved,” Zimmerman stated. “Lisa always found a way to find a win-win solution that allowed the company to expand the facilities and the workforce at a reasonable cost for both the city and the company.
“I now own an office supply and printing business in Waupaca. I do some business with the City of Clintonville and have interaction with Lisa and her staff on a regular basis,” continued Zimmerman. “Doing business with the City of Clintonville is no ‘walk in the park’, as they continually seek competitive quotes, and I lose more business than I gain with the city because of their effort to spend wisely and use the marketplace to the taxpayers’ advantage.
“I believe it would be a huge mistake to eliminate the city administrator position and assign those responsibilities to the mayor and other city staff,” concluded Zimmerman. “Without Lisa’s experienced leadership in the city administrator position, Clintonville will no longer be moving forward with job creation and economic growth, but will inevitably move backwards into economic stagnation.”
Vicki Koch, general manager at Cobblestone Inn & Suites, also addressed the Council.
“The city administrator was an integral part of our hotel being built. Our hotel is growing, and we are even taking some business from Shawano,” Koch said. “Thanks for having a city administrator. If you didn’t, we wouldn’t have built a hotel here.”
Mark Lake, a Principal for Midland Commercial Development Corp., also spoke regarding the value-added scenarios created by the city administrator.
“If it wasn’t for Lisa, Walgreens wouldn’t be coming here. Walgreens will bring 35 jobs and $3.5 million to the tax base,” Lake said. “I work with many cities, and the trend is to go towards having a city administrator instead of away from it. The Council would be doing the city a great disservice if it eliminated the city administrator position.”
John Klein of Klein Auto also spoke, stating that successful government needs a CEO just as a private sector business needs a leader to be successful.
“The city administrator job is very important because there are many different elements to balance. Our family and business have seen firsthand the value of the city administrator position,” he commented.
Klein also cited statistics from Fox Valley Workforce Development (FVWD), a seven county consortium that works with helping people that lose their jobs. FVWD purchases labor data from a company called Economic Modeling Specialists, Inc. (EMSI).
“According to Fox Valley Workforce Development, job growth in the manufacturing sector on the national level dropped by 23 percent between 2002-2010. On the state level, it dropped 18 percent in that same time period. However, the City of Clintonville saw a six percent increase in our manufacturing sector’s job growth. We have this huge advantage because of the city administrator.”
Amy Goerlinger, a human resources professional at Walker Forge, also spoke to the economic benefits that have been perpetuated by the city administrator position.
“People don’t seem to understand what the city administrator does,” she said, noting that expansion projects, job growth and the construction of Sgt. Warren Hansen Drive can all be traced back to the city administrator. “We need a city administrator to coordinate efforts. This position helps Walker Forge in hundreds of ways each year. There are three homes in my neighborhood that have been purchased by people who moved here because they got a job at Walker Forge.
“The economic growth can all be tied back to the city administrator,” Goerlinger said. “This is not a time to cut the position. It’s an exciting time. There is a lot to celebrate, and we need to work together to continue to grow.”
Clintonville resident Curt Ignacio stated it is important to have a point person in charge of the city and its $18 million annual budget.
“This is a business, and you need someone to be here all the time,” he said. “Let’s be serious-it’s a foregone conclusion in my mind that Lisa is going to stay. Let’s make sure we have her all the time; God forbid she ever leaves.”
After hearing comments from roughly 19 additional citizens and business leaders, Mayor Judith I. Magee stated that she hopes the rumors circulating will be shut down.
“It’s easy to say the city administrator position should be cut; however, the city administrator plays a key role in our success,” Magee said. “I would not be honest with my constituents if I said that we could be successful in operating the organization without an administrator.”
Council deliberation on the subject began over two hours after comments from the public had begun.
“I agree with a lot of what was said, and I’m very proud of the community for coming out to voice their opinion,” said Alderperson Mike Hankins. “We have come a long way. The city administrator position is key-it’s proven itself over and over. I agree that we need to continue with this position.”
Alderperson Mark Doornink thanked the public for attending the meeting and called out fellow alderpersons John Wilson, Gloria Dunlavy and Jeannie Schley, pointing out that they had signed the petition and asking them what their solution would be if the position were eliminated.
“I signed the petition because there is so much squabble,” Dunlavy said. “I don’t know if it’s the position as much as the person. I would like to see this go to the voters.”
When asked what her plan was for distributing the city administrator’s duties if the position were to be eliminated, Dunlavy avoided the question by saying, “I don’t think it’s going to go through because the petition was presented wrong.”
Alderperson Jeannie Schley said she feels the same as Dunlavy, suggesting that perhaps Kuss, the current city administrator, could be eliminated, but the position be kept and a different person be hired.
“I’m tired of hearing about the Hatfields and McCoys,” she said. “Voters should choose. If we don’t have a city administrator for two years, that’s fine.”
John Wilson said he signed the petition to be unbiased.
“You’ve got to represent both sides and be fair with people,” he said. “All we heard tonight are good things, which is good-but you’ve got to hear the other side too.”
Alderperson Pete Stumbris concluded the discussion by affirming his support for the position.
“I think we should squelch it here tonight,” he said. “We heard nothing but good things. It’s time to put this to rest and argue about something new next month.”
Doornink made a motion to accept the petition, table it and take no further action, meaning it will not go to a ballot vote. Hankins seconded the motion.
The council voted 7-3 in favor of the motion, with Dunlavy, Schley and Wilson voting no.