In order to improve communication between the administration and City Council, Mayor K.C. Zuber is requiring some city employees to report back conversations with council members. The relationship between council and the mayor has strained recently, with council members questioning why they weren’t informed of a problem with the firefighter union contract and the former-interim finance director’s report on loose ends in the finance department. The purpose of reporting back conversations with council members will let him know of any upcoming questions or discussions, Zuber said.
“I think it’ll improve communications with council and the administration,” he said. “I’m trying to help council do their job. It allows me to both work with them and help them out.” The mayor confirmed this, to a degree, has to do with the contract problem. In the passing of e-mails and memos among the city administration about attempting to fix a typo in the retirement pay for a firefighter, the mayor previously said he was not on the receiving end of any messages and only learned it was more than just a payroll issue after an interview with The Press. Zuber said there were other issues leading up to this as well, but he could not remember any specific cases at the time.
While Council President Greg Zilka is in favor of fixing the working relationship with the mayor, he said he has some initial concerns about this practice.
“People are less inclined to talk because it could paint them in a bad light or create an awkward situation for them,” he said. “Our concern is cutting off information or the exchange of information council members feel they need.”
Though he can understand how some may get that impression, Zuber said this is not about controlling people and who they talk to.
“I’m not telling anybody not to talk to anybody,” he said emphatically. Zilka said he learned of this new practice during one of his recent weekly meetings with the mayor. The mayor had expressed frustration about the communication problem as well, Zilka said, saying council members aren’t coming to him directly with questions or problems. Zilka said he encourages the other council members to talk to the mayor and take him up on his open door policy. However, he said it needs to go both ways.
“I think he feels sometimes we don’t communicate with him enough, just as we feel we’re not informed of things in a timely manner,” he said. “Some of the events of the last couple of months are examples of that.”
The mayor said he has worked hard to keep the lines of communication open between the administration and council, as well as other city employees. Zuber cited his weekly meetings with Zilka, regularly scheduled department head meetings, department head reports for council members and discussions with council members about topics related to their committees. He said he also meets with the union representatives on a regular basis.
Adding to some of the confusion of the new policy is figuring out to whom it applies. Zuber said this is only for those who deal with city finances and personnel issues and some who have decision-making authority, such as department heads. However, after speaking with the mayor, Zilka told The Press he learned this applied only to Sue Maurer, a finance clerk. He originally thought this applied to all city employees and called to correct the record. When contacted to confirm this, Zuber said he doesn’t go into personnel issues.
“I’m not going to get into specific names and people and certain issues,” he said. “I’m not going to do it when it comes to personnel.” When asked if this practice were directed only at Maurer because of the union contract problem, the mayor again declined to comment because it is a personnel issue.
Maurer had contacted Ward 3 Councilman Larry Meiners about the contract issue. Meiners then informed other members of council, who decided to handle correcting the contract instead of allowing the administration to handle the matter internally. The mayor informed council members at the Aug. 23 meeting the firefighter had been paid the rest of his retirement amount based on the opinions of Law Director Bill Kerner and Human Resources Director George Wintermyer prior to council’s approving the correction. Zilka said requiring reports to the mayor could ultimately discourage communication between council members and city employees. “What the long-term effects this will have on the operations of the city, I’m not sure,” he said.