Freeport, Illinois — On November 8th last year, Freeport voters asked the City Council to chart a new course. Voters supported a measure to change the office of the Mayor, who will remain the Chief Executive but will realign its focus and lead the legislative agenda of our City. Acting on the will of the people, the City Council and the Mayor have begun the restructuring necessary to install a new, professional City Manager that will oversee many of the daily operational tasks previously performed by the Mayor.
I wanted to update you about significant progress made on this complex task and what the next steps will be.
The first step the Council took was to establish a Transition Committee. We needed to rewrite decades of ordinances that supported a Mayor-Council form of government. The central change was crafting a new job description of the City Manager and of the part-time Mayor. We had to devise a clear vision of what each party would do and how the business of governing would be done.
Because of the complex nature of the work, we made two changes to how the Transition Committee operates as compared to other city committees. Generally, a committee does not give the Mayor a vote on every issue and does not formally include members of the public. We believed that including the Mayor and the public was crucial to a successful transition.
The Mayor and the Council have made great progress in moving our City forward, therefore a partnership was easy. Before serving as our Mayor for 12 years, Mayor Gitz served as a City Administrator; it only made sense to have him at the table. The same was true for the voice of the public. As a key stakeholder in this process, the public needs to have a say. We worked closely with the group that helped pass this referendum and implemented many of their suggestions. The Committee worked diligently and agreed on most elements of the transition unanimously. The key deliverables are the new job descriptions and framework for operations for how the new professional City Manager will run City Hall.
The next step involved hiring a specialized search firm. We wanted to ensure transparency and balance, to keep politics out of the process, and to ensure all legal/ethical guidelines were followed. We followed the city bid policy and after some healthy discussion, the Committee voted unanimously to hire GOV HR USA, a Chicago based firm with a sterling reputation. The cost estimate for the service is $20,000; this cost is in-line with other bids and industries for an executive search and, as the committee unanimously agreed, is well worth the money.
After gathering facts, the committee recommended an annual salary of $110,000-$135,000 to attract an appropriately talented City Manager. This salary is firmly within the range for someone well qualified to manage our city operations. Because one requirement the committee adopted was residency in Freeport, the search firm is conducting a national and local recruitment effort.
The transition is slated for May 15th. That gives us about two months to find the right candidate. Recognizing that it is common for this level of candidate to provide 30-60 days’ notice to their present employer, we developed a contingency plan that will be presented Monday for a vote. We are recommending Police Chief Todd Barkalow to fill an interim City Manager position if needed. Chief Barkalow has great leadership abilities and a deep bench within his department. He can certainly keep things moving smoothly throughout the transition.
The Transition Committee proved an important lesson for Freeport: When we have a clear objective, we can get around a table, roll up our sleeves, and come together around the best plan to move Freeport forward. It is in that vein that Alderperson Jodi Miller proposed a return to a committee structure for Freeport. Groups working together, hashing out details with input from the public is how a fair government works best. Ald. Miller’s first attempt to restore the inherent benefits of a committee structure, by reestablishing the Finance Committee, will also be presented at Monday’s committee meeting.
I am glad that I can report that, as you directed, we are charting a new course for Freeport. The future is looking brighter for all of us.
Andrew Chesney, Alderman-at-Large and Chairman of the Transition Committee