Council fires Cape city manager

Saturday, May 31, 2003

The Cape Girardeau City Council fired city manager Michael Miller on Friday, citing differences in management style and the desire to hire someone who will take a more visible leadership role.

Mayor Jay Knudtson said it's part of the council's effort to clean house and get rid of city staff who don't work well with the public.

The council appointed public works director Doug Leslie as interim city manager, effective immediately. Leslie, who has worked for the city for the past 13 years, served as interim city manager for three months before Miller took the position in October 1995.

Leslie said he will continue to handle some public works duties while delegating much of the responsibility to the department's existing staff.

Knudtson said the council will conduct a national search for a new city manager and hopes to have a new manager hired within three to five months. Searches for a new fire chief and a new human resources director will be put on hold until a new city manager is hired, the mayor said.

"Philosophical differences have made it impossible to move forward," Mayor Jay Knudtson said at a noon news conference at city hall. He was surrounded by city department heads and council members.

Miller didn't attend the news conference. No one answered the door at his home and a reporter's telephone calls weren't returned.

Knudtson later said Miller, who served as city manager for the past 7 1/2 years, left town on a scheduled trip.

The mayor said the council wants a city manager who will be "more involved in the community" and act more like the chief operating officer of a business, directing city government and reaching out to residents.

Knudtson said the council doesn't want a bureaucrat who is quick to raise objections to suggested solutions. "Oftentimes that is the fundamental pitfall of the professional city manager," he said.

He said the council may end up hiring someone who doesn't have any professional city management experience but has strong leadership and public communication skills.

Council members also have some leadership responsibility, he said. But the mayor said council members can't devote full time to city business. "We have full-time careers," he told reporters.

Closed session

The council met behind closed doors Thursday night after a work session on the budget and voted 6-0 in favor of firing Miller.

Councilwoman Marcia Ritter was out of town and couldn't attend the meeting, the mayor said. But Knudtson said he spoke to Ritter prior to the meeting and she agreed that Miller should be fired.

Miller will receive $20,990 in severance pay, an amount equal to three months of his $83,962 annual salary. The council raised Leslie's salary from $73,000 to $78,000 annually for taking on the extra duties.

Knudtson said much of the discussion Thursday night was over how much severance pay to give Miller. In the end, the council decided to stick to the terms spelled out in Miller's contract when he was hired in 1995.

Knudtson said Miller had wanted a larger severance package and enlisted Cape Girardeau lawyer Al Spradling III to help get it. Spradling was mayor of the council that hired Miller.

Spradling said city government made major strides during Miller's tenure, instituting team training for city employees and getting employee groups to work together.

Under Miller's guidance, the city passed two transportation sales tax issues that have provided needed money to build and repair streets, Spradling said.

Spradling said Miller was never out front in city government.

"He let his staff and the council be out front in the public," Spradling said. "He was very supportive of his employees, almost to a fault."

Prior warning

Spradling said Miller was surprised by the quick termination.

But Knudtson said the council made it clear to Miller months ago that his job performance was lacking. The mayor said he had a frank discussion with Miller a week and a half ago that foreshadowed the council action Thursday night.

Miller is the fourth top official in Cape Girardeau city government to be forced out since voters elected Knudtson and three new council members in April 2002 -- Ritter, Evelyn Boardman and Charlie Herbst.

The mayor said he and the council were instrumental in sacking fire chief Michael Lackman, Convention and Visitors Bureau director Terri Clark-Bauer and city inspections director Tarryl Booker last year.

"In each case, those individuals were asked to leave," he said.

The mayor said many city residents don't trust Cape Girardeau city government. The personnel changes hopefully will improve public trust, he said.

Knudtson said the council wants city administrators and employees who are committed to public relations and "recognize that citizens are their boss."

"Right now, that mentality does not exist," he said.

The council blames a lack of public trust for the defeat of four fee and tax issues on the April ballot. Knudtson said city officials can't wait until there's a tax issue to communicate with the public. Communication must be good all the time, he said.

The mayor wants the city to make more use of local cable television access Channel 5 in providing information on city services and issues to the public. Miller didn't agree, he said.

335-6611, extension 123

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