Metro-East News

Why has Collinsville seen five top officials leave since July?

Former Collinsville City Manager Scott Williams (center), Councilwoman Nancy Moss and Mayor John Miller listen to residents during the July 13, 2015, City Council meeting.
Former Collinsville City Manager Scott Williams (center), Councilwoman Nancy Moss and Mayor John Miller listen to residents during the July 13, 2015, City Council meeting. znizami@bnd.com

In less than a year, Collinsville lost its city manager, three department heads and one acting director to a termination and a series of resignations.

All but one of the former employees declined to discuss their reasons for leaving Collinsville. Mayor John Miller and newly hired City Manager Mitch Bair would not comment on the subject.

Now, the city is down to two vacancies in supervisory positions after moves to reorganize some departments and the hiring of the city manager Monday night.

Stacey O’Brien, the city’s human resources coordinator, said that while the departures have created additional work and stress on employees, they have also given the city an opportunity “to take a step back and review its departmental structures, reporting relationships, job descriptions and management controls.”

The result of that review was the elimination of two vacated positions, the duties of which have been redistributed to other employees, O’Brien said. The city has estimated that consolidating will save it close to $160,000 in annual employment costs, including salaries and benefits.

“We believe this realignment provides a more streamlined government at a lower overall cost to taxpayers,” O’Brien said in response to submitted questions.

City Councilwoman Nancy Moss argued that Collinsville is actually spending more, with a larger budget than last year. The $40.9 million in expected expenses for 2016 is an almost 20 percent increase over 2015 projections, according to the budgets available on the city’s website.

“There’s an awful lot of things being done by essentially less people than we had before, and yet we’ve increased our budget.” Moss said. “...We’ve added staff in some places and reduced staff in other places, but the bottom line is we are spending more and we have raised taxes.”

As part of the 2016 budget, the City Council approved the addition of six employees, as well as an increase to residents’ utility tax rates, which took effect in April, to pay for things like sidewalk work, among other items and projects. Moss voted against approval of the budget and the tax increase.

Bair steered that budget process while he was interim city manager.

In a news release, Bair touted the re-institution of a program to fund infrastructure improvements and equipment replacements through the increased revenue from the utility tax as one of his accomplishments since taking over as acting city manager in July.

City officials estimated that the revenue generated by the tax would jump from $366,330 in 2015 to $1.32 million in 2016.

The budget also moved revenue from the city’s home rule sales tax — $600,000 annually — into the general fund to allow for additions in staff, Bair said in budget talks last year. The home rule sales tax used to add money to capital projects, but revenue from the utility tax increase replaced it.

The largest expense during the last two years has been salaries. But while overall projected spending has increased, spending on salaries has decreased slightly from last year — it accounted for roughly 32 percent of spending in 2016 and 35 percent in 2015, according to the budgets.

We’ve added staff in some places and reduced staff in other places, but the bottom line is we are spending more and we have raised taxes.

City Councilwoman Nancy Moss on city spending

The departures

The first employee to leave Collinsville in the last year was former City Manager Scott Williams, who was fired by a City Council vote in July. During the four months that followed, the economic development director, streets director and fire chief each resigned. Earlier this month, the acting economic development director also resigned.

The streets director and economic development director positions have since been consolidated into other departments, while the fire chief’s job is still open. The job of community development director opened recently when Bair was appointed city manager. Bair had been in that position since 2012 and juggled the responsibilities while serving as acting city manager the last 10 months.

O’Brien would not comment on why the directors left.

“The reasons for the resignations are personal and you’d have to talk with them about why they chose to move on,” she said.

Former Fire Chief Mark Emert said in a previous interview that he would be taking another job as chief of the fire department in Helena, Montana.

“I got a daughter that’s moving away to go to college; I’m going to be an empty nester. It felt like the right time to see what was out there,” he said in December.

All other officials declined to comment after taking their leave.

The city’s most recent loss is of acting Economic Development Director Leah Joyce earlier this month. Joyce could not be reached for comment.

She announced her intention to accept an employment offer from a local financial services organization on April 29, according to her letter of resignation, which was released by the city last week following a Freedom of Information Act request.

Joyce’s last day was May 13. Her new employer is not named in the letter.

In addition to Joyce’s duties as acting economic director, which she took over on Sept. 24 with a $16,000 salary increase, she also served as the city’s “uptown” coordinator. Her responsibilities, according to her LinkedIn profile, included working to attract businesses to Collinsville and to retain them, as well as managing the tax increment financing program for downtown businesses that is currently being re-evaluated by the City Council.

“My experience with the city has been very rewarding,” Joyce wrote in her resignation letter. “I appreciate the opportunity to work with my co-workers, colleagues, community groups, developers, business owners and especially the uptown business owners.”

Two other coordinators also left the city this year: the human resources and communications coordinators. O’Brien filled the human resources vacancy, but the communications coordinator position remains vacant.

Joyce’s was the second supervisory resignation the economic development department has seen recently; former director Erika Kennett stepped down in September.

Bair began working as acting city manager the same week the City Council voted 3-2 against renewal of Williams’ contract, which resulted in Williams’ termination on Sept. 3. Miller, along with council members Jeff Stehman and Cheryl Brombolich, voted against renewing the contract, while council members Moss and Jeff Kypta voted for renewal.

Bair was formally appointed interim city manager on Sept. 14 with a pay increase of $1,800 per month, which was paid retroactively to July when he first took over Williams’ duties. At that time, Bair was also the city’s community development director, city planner, liaison to the planning commission and zoning hearing officer.

City Council members have sparred over Williams’ firing.

Kypta and Moss say Brombolich and the mayor wanted to get rid of the city manager after he investigated allegations against them. Brombolich says in a federal lawsuit filed earlier this month that Williams is the one who retaliated against her when she was a city employee prior to the election.

Williams is alleged in the suit to have aided personal friends in his capacity as city manager, and Brombolich says she was a whistle-blower who he forced to resign in 2014.

Kypta and Moss say it was Williams’ investigation of Brombolich’s personal use of city funds, as well as the mayor’s truckloads of free dirt from a city contractor, that led the two to call for Williams’ termination.

Brombolich and Miller each repaid the personal purchases and gift of dirt, respectively.

Williams has declined to comment on the subject.

My experience with the city has been very rewarding.

Leah Joyce in her resignation letter

Replacements and consolidations

After former Streets Director Rod Cheatham resigned in October, his position, along with the position of water/waste water director, was eliminated. Duties were consolidated to form a public works director position, held by Dennis Kress.

Cheatham and Kress each previously earned a salary of $83,880. Now, Kress makes $98,500, resulting in a savings of $74,000, including benefits, according to Bair.

This week, the city consolidated another position. Bair was appointed full-time city manager and is also taking over the duties of the economic development director. The city estimates this combination will save it $85,900, bringing the total estimated savings by consolidation to $159,900.

Bair’s salary will increase from $107,280 to $135,000. By comparison, the former city manger’s salary was $111,420, and the former economic development director’s was $83,880.

Bair declined to be interviewed following his appointment, but in a news release stated that he is “thankful for the opportunity to continue to serve the great city of Collinsville.”

“Serving as the interim city manager for the last 10 months has been a great experience, and I’m anxious to continue and grow that role and help lead Collinsville into a bright future with my fellow teammates here at the city,” Bair stated in the release.

While Bair’s appointment filled two of the city’s vacancies, it also opens up a position in the community development department, which oversees planning and zoning, building and inspections, licensing and the senior citizen and disabled residents’ shuttle bus service.

O’Brien said the city does not have plans to appoint an acting director, so Bair will be responsible for the duties of the city manager, economic development director and community development director until a replacement can be found.

We believe this realignment provides a more streamlined government at a lower overall cost to taxpayers.

Stacey O’Brien on consolidations of city jobs

The remaining vacancies

O’Brien said recruitment for the community development director position will begin soon.

An independent search, which could cost up to $15,000, is currently underway by the Illinois Fire Chief’s Association to find candidates for the vacant fire chief position. The city hopes to select Emert’s replacement this summer.

The application deadline is June 10, according to O’Brien.

“Depending on the successful candidate,” she said, “we may or may not meet our goal of a July 1 start date.”

The fire department currently has an assistant fire chief position, held by Dale Kyrouac.

Meanwhile, as part of the redistribution of economic development duties, Joyce’s former role of uptown coordinator will be “revamped,” according to O’Brien.

This redesigned administrative support position will include expanded responsibilities for development downtown, as well as business district and TIF programs. The city does not have plans to appoint an acting coordinator, O’Brien said.

“Once a job description has been finalized, we’ll begin recruitment,” she said.

$159,900 Collinsville’s total estimated savings in annual employment costs by eliminating positions, consolidating duties

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Departures

The following are the last working days of the three department heads and one acting director who resigned and the chief administrative officer who was terminated in the last 10 months.

  • Leah Joyce, resigned: Acting economic development director and uptown coordinator with $65,000 salary until May 13
  • Mark Emert, resigned: Fire chief with $98,060 salary until Dec. 31
  • Rod Cheatham, resigned: Streets director with $83,880 salary until Oct. 23
  • Erika Kennett, resigned: Economic development director with $83,880 salary until Sept. 22
  • Scott Williams, terminated: City manager with $111,420 salary until Sept. 3

Who are the other department heads?

The following are the four departments that have not seen resignations in the last 10 months.

  • Community Development: Mitch Bair, director with $135,000 salary
  • Finance: Tamara Ammann, director/city treasurer with $92,000 salary
  • Police: Steve Evans, chief with $100,820 salary
  • Public Works: Dennis Kress, director with $98,500 salary
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