'Hands-on' Cape leader picked for city manager

Saturday, September 13, 2003

Doug Leslie, described by Cape Girardeau city employees as "down to earth" and a "hands-on" administrator, was hired Friday as the new city manager.

He served as interim city manager on two occasions in the past eight years -- most recently since the May 30 firing of then city manager Michael Miller. The council blamed the firing on differences in management style.

But on Friday, the council had nothing but praise for Miller's replacement.

Mayor Jay Knudtson, accompanied by Leslie, announced the hiring at a news conference at city hall, surrounded by department heads who crowded into the city manager's office for the event.

Knudtson said the seven-member council voted unanimously to hire Leslie, who has served as the city's public works director for the past 13 years. He said Leslie has boosted employee morale and instilled a commitment to customer service throughout city government since taking over as interim manager.

"There's been a huge change at city hall," the mayor said.

"The new direction is all about attitude and recognizing the fact that the citizens of Cape Girardeau are our top priority," Knudtson said in making the announcement, adding that Leslie was the "obvious choice."

Leslie, 53, will make a salary of $83,131 -- $5,000 more than he was making as interim city manager and $10,000 more than what he was making as public works director. Knudtson said the council offered him $85,000, but that he refused to be paid more than what the previous city manager earned.

Knudtson said the council wanted to show its appreciation to Leslie without breaking the budget.

Leslie said it would be wrong to take a higher salary when tough economic times prevented the council from giving employees pay raises this year.

No contract

The mayor said Leslie has agreed to work as city manager without the benefit of a contract. Most city managers do get contracts.

Leslie said he doesn't see the need for a contract. The city manager serves at the pleasure of the council, he said. Having a contract wouldn't change that, he said.

Leslie was chosen from among 61 applicants and three finalists. Knudtson said a committee of seven city employees met with each of the three finalists and each of the finalists was interviewed in Cape Girardeau by the council. Leslie was the last candidate interviewed. The council did so on Thursday just before deciding in closed session to hire Leslie. Knudtson said the decision to keep secret the names of the finalists was done so at the request of the other two finalists and wasn't done to protect Leslie.

Leslie said he was "humbled" by the support from city workers and city residents, and he likes to get out and inspect city operations first hand.

"I always try to manage and lead by example," he said.

Leslie said he hopes to hire a fire chief, human resources director and public works director by the end of the year. The first two positions have been vacant for months, and the public works position opened up with the hiring of Leslie as city manager.

The interview process was taken seriously even though the job went to the interim city manager, Knudtson said. Council members Matt Hopkins, Charlie Herbst and Hugh White said the process convinced them that Leslie was the right man for the job.

The mayor said that Leslie's performance as interim city manager won him the permanent job.

"At the end of the day, it is pretty tough to unseat a known commodity," the mayor said.

Councilman Matt Hopkins praised Leslie after the announcement. "We all know that Doug just is steady and true," he said. "He is just a good man."

Hopkins said he had received numerous letters and telephone calls from city residents who wanted the council to hire Leslie.

Leslie has over 29 years of municipal management experience, including 11 years as city manager of Nevada, Mo.

Leslie and his wife, Sara, live in Cape Girardeau.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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