Update: That didn't take long. Shortly after posting this I got a call defending the City Council.
The council's Executive Committee met in closed session before the council's full meeting on July 7 to discuss the terms of Friedel's contract. It was reportedly a "rancorous" debate over issues including: pay, sick leave and how Friedel could be removed as administrator. There was also a great deal of discussion over whether Friedel was being treated differently because he was a City Council member.
About 10 people were in the meeting, which was noticed as a meeting to consider "employment or compensation of a public employee over which the Common Council has jurisdiction or exercises authority." Not sure why they didn't just say: "to discuss the city administrator's contract."
The Executive Committee is made up of Mayor John Dickert and Alderman Sandy Weidner, Greg Helding, Aron Wisneski, QA Shakoor II and Jim Spangenberg. All of the aldermen were invited to the meeting, but some were unable to attend.
"To say we went back to the old way is just wrong," according to the caller, who asked to be unnamed.
They also assured that the City Council could change the final contract if significant changes are made to the agreement reached in closed session.
So to answer the question at the end of the original post: Yes, the contract was important enough to hold a committee meeting over. It's just not important enough to hold that meeting in public for all to see.
How quickly we forget.
Just two years ago City Council members chastised themselves for not carefully reviewing a contract that paid outgoing City Administrator Steve Nenonen $29,000 for unused sick days after just three years of service.
"Obviously (the council) didn’t realize what it would amount to," Alderman Jim Spangenberg told The Journal Times in 2007 about Nenonen's contract.
"(The council) made a mistake," he added.
In response, Mayor Gary Becker asked the City Council to review the contract of incoming City Administrator Ben Hughes. Hughes' one-year, renewing contract was sent to the Personnel and Finance Committee (chaired at the time by Alderman Tom Friedel) and every member of the City Council was given a copy before voting Sept. 4, 2007 to approve the contract. Hughes received no settlement when he left his job on Feb. 16.
So what happened this time when the city hired a new administrator? The council reverted to the process it used to hire the guy who got the $29,000 buyout. Council members voted July 7 to authorize Mayor John Dickert and City Attorney Rob Weber to negotiate a six-year contract with Friedel to become the next administrator. Neither the council, nor its Personnel and Finance Committee (chaired by Spangenberg), will review the contract before it's enacted.
Talking off the record, one alderman said council members decided not to review the contract because they trusted city staff and the mayor to handle the details. But while they may trust the mayor and city attorney to negotiate a fair deal with one of their colleagues, the lack of public oversight is troubling.
Dickert and Friedel declined to talk about salary or benefits Friedel will receive as administrator (Friedel simply said he would make "significantly less" than Hughes' $115,000 salary), and there are some important questions about what exactly a six-year contract means. But the public won't know any of these details until they're already locked in place, presumably through 2015.
It's hard to understand why City Council members would accept this deal without at least seeing the paperwork. It's all the more questionable because a former colleague is involved. Think about it: Twelve aldermen just voted to pay another alderman at least $500,000 over six years. Isn't that worth at least a committee meeting?