Finance Committee refers matter to City Council
BY KEVIN BONESKE
Among the items Rhinelander’s Finance, Wage and Salary Committee discussed at Tuesday’s meeting lasting two hours was what to do in the future about the city administrator position, which has been held since February on an interim basis by retired attorney Keith Kost.
Committee members favored referring the matter to the full City Council to look at whether to keep Kost in the position or possibly hire someone else on a full-time basis. They suggested having the City Council set a special meeting to decide that.
“It wouldn’t be a bad idea, when we come to a consensus of what we want to do with this committee, that we bring the entire council in for a final decision – instead of us deciding and talking about it all and then getting the council and three other people going, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t like that idea,’ and then we go back to the drawing board,” said committee member Sherrie Belliveau.
The employment agreement between the city and Kost pays him an annual salary of $51,000 and runs through Dec. 31. However, the contract could end sooner by the city providing him at least 60 days’ written notice. Kost would also be able to leave the position before the end of the year if he provided at least 60 days’ written notice. In addition, the council could terminate him at any time, without reason and without cause, on a majority vote.
The contract provisions state the annual salary is based on a part-time schedule for Kost of three days per week, typically Monday through Wednesday. However, in order to complete the position’s duties and responsibilities, the contract also notes, “from time to time, significant work may be expected and devoted to said position outside of part-time hours and normal office hours.”
Kost has waived any health, life or dental insurance plan available for city employees, as well as participation in the Wisconsin Retirement Fund as part of the contract.
When asked by the committee whether he would want to stay on as the city administrator after the end of the year, Kost said he’s “enjoying what I’m doing.”
“If you want me to stay, basically the same type of situation, I’ll be back here to do it,” he said. “If you want to go a different way, I’d be happy to stay until you get somebody hired. I’ll be happy to stay for a couple of weeks after that to help him out. I live there. I don’t plan just to pack a bag and leave.”
Kost began a law practice in Rhinelander in 1997 after practicing law in Illinois.
Rhinelander had been without a city administrator for more than five months after council members voted 6-2 in late August 2016 to terminate the contract of the previous administrator, Kristina Aschenbrenner, who had been in the position for not quite a year. As a full-time administrator, Aschenbrenner received an annual salary of $85,000.
Following Aschenbrenner’s termination, the city obtained the recruiting services of the Oshkosh-based Public Administration Associates in a search for a new city administrator. At PAA’s suggestion, the Finance Committee had recommended that the job be posted as a full-time position with an annual salary of between $85,000 to $95,000, plus benefits.
However, the full City Council put that hiring process on hold when Kost appeared at the council’s Jan. 9 meeting to offer his services on a part-time basis.
Finance Committee chairman Mark Pelletier noted the city has had trouble in recent years in retaining a full-time city administrator for the long term with Bill Bell and Blaine Oborn having left before the majority on the council ousted Aschenbrenner.
“How they look as an administrator, they have the tendency to maybe not do what in the long term is best for the community, because they’re looking at moving themselves up into a better community, a richer community, a larger one, a (community paying) $20,000 more a year,” Pelletier said. “And we’ve watched that happen a couple of times. They’re looking at making things better for themselves.”
If the city administrator’s position wasn’t currently filled on an interim basis by Kost, Pelletier said the city would have to look at hiring someone full-time to the position.