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3 or 4 votes to fire, that’s the question

Ripon council wrestles with city administrator ordinance

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POSTED April 5, 2013 2:31 a.m.

City Administrator Leon Compton is heading towards retirement.

Kevin Werner – he’s the city engineer doubling as the deputy city administrator for the City of Ripon – is the strong favorite for the position.

The Ripon City Council, meanwhile, is looking into the ordinance involving the position that’s stood for 60 years. As it stands, it takes a 3-2 vote from elected leaders to hire a City Administrator but a 4-1 vote to remove that person from the post.

Council members indicated last Tuesday that in no way a possible change here was directed at Werner’s promotion – on the contrary, they’re keeping their fingers crossed that he doesn’t have a sudden change of heart by opting out – but rather uniformity.

“The only other thing it takes a super majority (4-1) vote is putting an emergency item on the agenda, “ said Councilman Leo Zuber, who spent 32 years as a school administrator. “Everything else is 3-2.

“I’m told that a 4-1 vote is important for stability and to keep the politics out of the relationship between the City Council and the City Administrator.”

Werner reportedly had been approached by the previous council as the possible successor back when it seemed Compton might retire.

That’s now a reality as it was announced Compton’s sendoff will include an ice cream social at Stouffer Hall planned for April 12.

Vice Mayor Chuck Winn believes council has a moral obligation to at least abide by what’s been in place since 1953.

“If it were me in this position, if I decided to take job with the difference being dismissed at 4-1 rather than 3-2, it would make for a very difficult decision,” he said.

Winn also noted that the timing is wrong to make changes to this ordinance for the sake of reflecting on how things are done now.

“The City of Ripon is a model for other cities and has a reputation for being a class community,” he added. “This didn’t happen by accident – it took hard work.

Winn later said: “Just because another city council uses a 3-2 vote to remove someone doesn’t mean we should, too… The 4-1 vote has worked for 60 years, and we need to maintain the integrity of Ripon.”

He made the motion that called for City Attorney Tom Terpstra to look into the performance of the experience of cities and other public agencies that have a simple majority over that of a 4-1 vote. Winn added that tenure, performance, continuity, and even morale should be included in this research.

Zuber supported the motion but on the condition that no action is to be taken relative to the hiring of a City Administrator until the research is completed.

Furthermore, Councilman Jake Parks requested, as part of Winn’s motion, that City Attorney Terpstra determine if Deputy City Administrator Werner would be affected by this decision.

Council members voted unanimously for Terpstra to look further into this matter. They’ll wait until the report is delivered to them before hiring the next City Administrator.

“I just don’t want anything to be done after the fact,” Zuber said.

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