Mayor John Dickert, barely five weeks into his term, named his choice for city administrator this afternoon: Alderman and former mayor Tom Friedel.
The mayor said he and Friedel "complement each other very well.... We know we have a big job. We have a hurting community."
Dickert said he made his decision only after determining that the city has enough money to fund the position. "We've saved a considerably amount of money," he said. He also said he kept his promise to look locally first "because we have lots of capable people here," and that he talked to people in business, city employees and the people of Racine. "I asked them, 'What are you looking for?'" and the answer was "the people of this city are looking for a new direction; they want someone they can trust."
Neither Dickert nor Friedel would disclose the salary they are negotiating. Both said it would be less than the $115,000 former administrator Ben Hughes was getting when he resigned in February. "Significantly less," said Friedel.
During his three months as "interim" mayor, after the resignation of Gary Becker and during the election process that gave the job to Dickert, Friedel had favored a professional search for a city administrator to replace Hughes, who resigned in the midst of two complaints -- since dismissed -- filed by two female employees he was disciplining.
"I wanted to start the search," he said, "but no work in that direction took place," because "we wouldn't have had a good pool (of applicants) given some of the candidates' positions" (opposed to hiring a new administrator.)
Dickert said his appointment of Friedel -- if his fellow City Council members go along with it at their next meeting, on July 7 -- would save the city the $20,000 a search firm would have cost. In addition, he said, the search would have taken four months, and then the new person would need three months' training. "Seven months was a long time for this process," Dickert said. "As you can see from the desk" he said, looking from the podium to his desk and table, both of which were covered with work papers, "we are working on a lot -- and have 17 1/2% unemployment in the city."
Friedel has worked at Twin Disc since 1972, spending 25 years in manufacturing as a machinist and supervisor and 12 years in management; he is currently a manager in aftermarket operations. He served three terms on the Racine Unified School Board, from 1986 to 1995 and served as its president. He is in his fifth term on the City Council representing District 10. Friedel said he will resign from Twin Disc if the council approves his appointment as city administrator.
If there's a gap in his resume it is this: He is a graduate of St. Catherine's High School but has no college degree. "If this is a litmus test," said Dickert, "then a lot of good people would be left out." Friedel said he "regrets" not going to college; "It took me nine years on the school board to learn about negotiation." But he also said that city administrator is a relatively new position and not everyone who holds the job has -- or needs -- a college degree to be successful.
"I think I'm the right person at the right time," he said.
Dickert said, "Education is one way; experience is just as invaluable. I did not want someone brand new, or in the last two years before retirement."
Other issues touched upon during the mayor's press conference in his office included:
- Hiring a new health department administrator to replace Janelle Grammer, who was fired by the council this week: "We've already started broaching that subject."
- The status of the Laurel Clark Fountain, beloved by the city's kids, but threatened with closure or a fence under state regulations: "My kids love the fountain," Dickert said. "We'll talk about it."
- The Legislature's Regional Transit debate:Dickert urged the Senate and Assembly to "go back to the governor's proposal." He said he is opposed to a wheel tax, and "I will not impose a disproportionate tax on our people for something that should be regional." The mayor said it is important that "our infrastructure is rebuilt" and he favored the plan that took city buses off the property tax rolls. "If the Legislature says no to the RTA, they would be making a catastrophic decision for the infrastructure of Racine. They did that 16 years ago."