Mayor Becky Glewen proposes city administrator for Beaver Dam

May 3, 2019

City officials are looking at a major change to the way Beaver Dam operates.

Mayor Becky Glewen has proposed creating a city administrator position for Beaver Dam and making the elected mayor part-time. The city currently has the full-time elected mayor who presides over the Common Council alongside a director of administration, who handles a wide range of responsibilities.

The plan is still in the exploratory stage, but under Glewen’s proposal, the director of administration would become more of a financial officer. The city administrator would manage the city’s operations.

Glewen said there would be continuity since the city administrator would continue in the role after an election.

“The mayor and council still would oversee the administrator, so you would have direct hiring over that individual,” Glewen said. “The mayor still is your head, your council and mayor are still at the head of the community, but they are more directing policy and attending events, running meetings, those types of things.”

Creating the new position would require changing the city charter, a process that would include public hearings. Glewen said she will invite members of an association of city managers to speak to the community. Glewen said the idea has growing support among other communities in Wisconsin as well as the League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

According to data provided by the league, more than 150 municipalities in Wisconsin have moved to a city administrator. Beaver Dam is one of 190 cities in the state.

“The difficulty of it is then looking at how to get to that point and also how do you pay for it?” Glewen said. “That’s part of this exploratory process that we’ll be looking at.”

A new highly paid position would be an extra cost, but some of it could come from savings like reducing the mayor’s role from full time to part time. The mayor’s salary is $60,000.

The city’s longtime director of administration, John Somers, recently retired and was succeeded by Jeff Wiswell. Some human resources responsibilities were moved away from the director to the mayor and the city attorney in anticipation of a move toward a city administrator.

Many communities of Beaver Dam’s size already have city administrators, like Menomonie, Oconomowoc and Marshfield. Smaller cities like Columbus have one, too, serving alongside the mayor.

“I make sure that the policies and ordinances of the city are enforced. I carry out the direction of the city council,” said Patrick Vander Sanden, the administrator for Columbus. “But it really includes everything involved in the city organization, from personnel to service delivery, really the umbrella of the city.”

He said that, as administrator, he tries to anticipate issues that the council may need to address and will do research on policy and possible ordinance changes.

He said he tries to keep his door open to anyone, and Columbus Mayor Michael Thom does as well.

Glewen is not the first mayor to advocate to a city administrator. Jack Hankes, mayor from 2004-08, has publicly supported the idea of converting to a city administrator structure.

Tom Kennedy, mayor from 2008-17, talked about how things work in Beaver Dam during a Wisconsin Public Radio forum about city administrators in 2012. He spoke about how, in the wake of the 2008 flood, people came to him as the mayor for help.

Fond du Lac doesn’t even have a mayor. The city operates under the council-manager form of government, where a city manager reports to the city council. Brian Kolstad, the council president in Fond du Lac, said the arrangement puts more emphasis on the seven council members and their role in making policy and decisions.

Glewen said she is ready to make a push for the change in Beaver Dam.

“I think the city administrator is definitely something we should take on,” she said.