Unfortunately, the path to the departure last Sunday of City Administrator Lisa Kotter looks an awful lot like the one that Mayor Stephanie Acri and the Moline City Council took to sever ties with Doug Maxeiner, the city administrator she replaced. He resigned suddenly on Jan. 22 in what city leaders continue to insist was a mutual parting of the ways, but which evidence strongly suggests was not.
Residents were not fooled, and the council took heat for the way it handled Maxeiner’s ouster because there had been no hint outside of city hall that something was wrong. Moline also was criticized after its boilerplate automatic rejection of a Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com Freedom of Information Act request for records we hoped would shed some light on what was going on behind the scenes.
As a result, the council voted to release the emails requested. That decision was encouraging then, as were the words of city leaders, including Acri. She declared at the Feb. 12 council meeting, "One of the things that's important to me as an elected official is to be as transparent as I can to the community that we’re representing so they understand the processes we go through. If they want to understand better what is happening behind the scenes, then we should share that information with them."
Ald. Mike Wendt, Ward 3, added, "I think the default should be that we are transparent; we are open. Sunshine is the best antiseptic. I expect the things I do that are involved with my duty here should be open to the public. I don’t have any problems with it at all."
Sadly, their words and those of other aldermen ring hollow as they continue to quietly preside over an ongoing exodus of experienced and qualified staff, including Moline’s planning and economic development director, finance director, city attorney and her deputy.
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Kotter’s “resignation” is especially troubling since she was hired just over two months after Maxeiner was quietly ousted, and her tenure lasted less than five months. Why? Failure to provide answers to that and other questions fuels concerns that council micromanagement is destroying morale and driving top employees out of town,
And the speed with which the resignation of an obviously surprised Kotter was secured and her letter was drafted and signed -- without public discussion -- is especially worrisome. If those discussions didn’t happen in open sessions, where did they take place? Sadly, when given the opportunity to comment on the reasons for Kotter's departure, aldermen either failed to return phone calls or declined to comment.
On Friday, the Dispatch-Argus-QCOnline.com filed a new FOIA seeking records we hope will answer at least some of those questions. We urge the city to quickly release the documents requested, as well as any others that might shed light on what led the city to part ways with yet another city administrator.
Residents have a right to know what happened since they will pay the price for the severance deals that were included in these so-called mutual partings.
City leaders are quick to remind taxpayers that the search firm that will be seeking Kotter’s replacement won’t charge for the process because she didn’t stay on the job for the two years required by its city contract. But the search money “saved” is minimal compared to the potential negative impact the revolving door could have on Moline’s ability to attract top professionals leaders, and its success in quickly getting what was once an Illinois Quad-Cities economic development engine humming again.
The latter will be especially essential as Moline decides how best to maximize the opportunity presented by the new Interstate 74 bridge and more than 13 acres of ready-to-develop land on prime real estate that lies at its feet.
The need to bring yet another city administrator up to speed on that critical project won’t help. Neither will city leaders' continued penchant for secrecy inspire hope that this pivotal planning effort will be discussed, and every key decision made in the open after an engaged public debate.