Council member renews call for a city administrator

By Shereen Siewert

WAUSAU – Citing perceived low morale at City Hall, Wausau City Council member Romey Wagner is renewing calls for a city administrator in addition to a full-time mayor to better manage the city’s operations.

Wausau City Council Alderman Romey Wagner

The comments came on Wednesday during a radio interview on AM 1230 WXCO.

Wagner, who is chair of the city’s human resources committee, told radio host Oliver Burrows his view of morale at City Hall is starkly different from that of Mayor Robert Mielke, who presented a positive picture during his state of the city address earlier this month. After a tumultuous election, Mielke in April 2016 replaced former Mayor Jim Tipple, who retired.

“When you hear that everything is all rosy, well, there are two sides to that,” Wagner said.

Wagner pointed specifically to persistent staffing difficulties and communication issues that keep employees from having a voice.

“Right now there’s a situation where we haven’t had department heads for nine months, a year, specifically in the HR department, where we haven’t filled that HR manager’s role,” Wagner said. “Everything is not rosy with the department head not being there.”

Wagner said, as HR chair, he will re-introduce next month the idea of hiring a city administrator in addition to having a full-time mayor. Voters rejected the city administrator idea by a narrow margin in 2015 in a non-binding referendum. Some critics of the plan balked at the price tag of spending $150,000 on a city administrator, but Wagner said that would have been money well spent. The city had been mired in a number of costly lawsuits since the referendum failed.

“I would believe that year we would have saved all that lawsuit money we had if we had a city administrator that was skilled in how to work around situations legally,” Wagner said.

Council President Lisa Rasmussen said she disagrees with Wagner on both the idea that morale is low and that a city administrator is necessary for Wausau.

City Council President Lisa Rasmussen

“The residents of Wausau have spoken on this,” Rasmussen said. “If you have a mayor who has the core management skill and good communication skills, you can get good results in Wausau. Having both positions is a large and unsustainable cost for Wausau taxpayers, and we employ a quality management team to advise the council and the mayor in the areas they specialize in.”

Rasmussen said past problems at the city were largely due to a highly conflicted council that found itself continually “at war” with the mayor’s office. That climate has changed, Rasmussen said.

“No organization is perfect, but Wausau is light years ahead of where it was a year ago and we are moving in a direction that is far more positive thanks to the efforts of Mayor Mielke and all 11 council members who have put their heart and soul into repairing the damage of the past for the good of the community and at the same time providing responsible, clear leadership,” Rasmussen said.

Repeated attempts to contact Mielke were not successful.