The empty upstairs offices at Moline City Hall gave the impression it was a holiday, and somebody forgot to lock up.
At 3:15 p.m. Wednesday, the offices of the city administrator, city clerk and mayor were vacant. "Hellooooo?" I nearly shouted. The lights were on, but nobody was home.
The silence at City Hall screams out Moline's mess.
The problems are plentiful:
Former City Administrator Lew Steinbrecher might as well have left in the night. He announced at a City Council meeting on Nov. 8 that he was retiring, and he was gone the next day. This is far from commonplace conduct.
I asked Mayor Scott Raes what was up, and he gave a no-big-deal shrug.
"I kind of had it in my gut he'd be gone," the mayor replied.
He should have had it in his calendar.
The city now stands to go six months without an administrator. That's a long time to go without leadership in a City Council-City Administrator form of government. The applications for the job aren't even due until next week, and the council isn't expected to begin first interviews until the first of April.
If you click on the City Administrator link on the city's website, you do not get an application, nor a link to the firm doing the city's recruiting. You get, "We're sorry, but there is no web page matching your entry." (Curious, I also clicked on the State of the City link. It took me to a five-page summary of city happenings — from 2013.)
Meanwhile, the city briefly assigned the finance director, a city planner and an alderman to fill in for Steinbrecher. A few weeks ago, the council voted to install Public Works Director J.D. Schulte as interim city admin. It was, in fact, an excellent choice. Schulte is the kind of worker any employer would wish to duplicate, and he has proven his smarts, dedication and flexibility repeatedly over his long career with the city.
But he has a Public Works Department to run.
"I don’t require much sleep, so I am leaning hard on the rock stars I have in PW, and my wife is good about bringing me meals on wheels at night," he wrote in an email Thursday.
Despite his can-do spirit, running the city's largest department and acting as city admin is too much to ask.
Also too much to ask is what is going on with City Clerk Tracy Koranda, who has been on paid suspension for three weeks. The city has been mum, which isn't particularly unusual, ever since Koranda filed civil action against the city. The petition seeks an injunction that would put her back to work and bar the City Council from taking additional action against her.
Her chief complaint is the assertion that a "political witch hunt" led to her suspension, and she is being punished for being a whistleblower. More details should emerge at the hearing in Rock Island County Circuit Court that is scheduled for March 3. Koranda basically is saying that she asked the city attorney for an investigation into her claims that aldermen were butting into her business and only a city administrator has the authority to discipline or terminate her.
She accuses aldermen of inappropriately taking over administrative duties, politically motivated meddling, conflicts of interest and violating the city's workplace violence policy by criticizing her and threatening her job.
Keep in mind: Koranda was widely criticized by the public, too, when she failed to help certain candidates for city office properly file their necessary paperwork and navigate a cumbersome election process. She even failed to notice that an election was needed in one city ward.
The day after the clerk complained to the city attorney and asked for an investigation, the City Council made Schulte the interim city administrator. Koranda said the council shouldn't have taken that vote, because the matter was not on the agenda.
The next day, Schulte placed Koranda on paid leave.
But we can't very well blame the clerk for the continued confusion surrounding next week's primary election. We're just four days away, and we still don't know how many mayoral candidates will advance to the general election in April. On Thursday morning, County Clerk Karen Kinney told me the county attorney was still sorting it out.
In addition to the incumbent Mayor Raes, at-large Alderwoman Stephanie Acri has filed to be a write-in candidate for mayor. Her candidacy petitions were among those thrown out for her failure to number the pages after Raes objected on the technicality. In fact, the copies of blank petitions that were given to all candidates by Koranda had the page-number portion cut off in the copying process.
At least four others have declared they also are write-in candidates for mayor, but Kinney said, to get an extra line on the ballot, candidates have to officially file as write-ins. Acri is the only one to have done so.
State law I have found indicates that votes for write-ins who didn't officially file will not be counted. I'm told declaring your write-in interest is simply a political maneuver intended to take votes away from the official write-in candidate (Acri), and our in-house political expert said it's a common tactic for helping the incumbent.
Then there's the matter of a forensic audit into possible shenanigans by a city employee. The mayor has said there may have been some time-card tampering, and the council OK'd spending up to $100,000 on a forensic audit of city records to find out. But Raes last week said no one has been hired and, as of now, there is no audit.
So, there you have it.
Even though Moline has a mess on its hands, planning, economic development, legal, public works and public safety continue to hum along.
As soon as someone is hired as city administrator, the clerk situation has been resolved and the election is sorted out, maybe somebody can do something about the crickets on the third floor.