”It is a great concern, and it is a real loss to the city of Rhinelander.” -Council member Dawn Rog
BY NAOMI KOWLES
For the Star Journal
Rhinelander interim city administrator Keith Kost submitted his letter of resignation to the city April 25, an action that many city officials said was unexpected.
A special City Council meeting took place Monday night to discuss and approve Kost’s resignation. Several city council members used the meeting to request information regarding the administrator’s abrupt departure.
“I’m very disappointed that this individual, who has done a tremendous job for the city…and that something happened so abruptly that this individual would have to do what he did,” said alderperson Dawn Rog. ”It is a great concern, and it is a real loss to the city of Rhinelander.”
City Council President George Kirby took the podium to remind Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson of his campaign promises of transparency and honesty, and to request the reason for Kost’s resignation.
Frederickson maintained his position throughout the meeting and during follow-up afterward that the resignation had been tendered over disciplinary personnel issues with a city employee and differences in leadership style, but that he had asked Kost repeatedly to reconsider. “There was no ultimatum made.” When asked, he did not recall what had occurred in conversation directly preceding Kost’s verbal resignation.
However, Kirby told the Star Journal that Kost said personnel issues were not the reason for his resignation. Kirby told the council that only he, Frederickson and city attorney Carrie Miljevich know why Kost, who did not attend the meeting and declined to provide comment, resigned.
Frederickson said the issue on which they differed in respect to personnel problems was disciplinary action. “All discipline should be for making him a better employee,” he explained. “Seeing the problem from different perspectives was the issue.”
While Frederickson said he had not seen the personnel files, he noted that he could not share many of the specifics of the situation, but it was unclear how Frederickson knew details of the issue without having seen the documentation.
According to Miljevich, “Most of the personnel responsibilities should reside with a city administrator when someone fills that position either on an interim or a permanent basis.”
Miljevich noted there were no contractual obligations requiring Kost to continue in his position despite his contract through June, with the “at will” employment clause allowing for the immediate cessation of Kost’s duties.
Several former aldermen attended the meeting, although Frederickson did not allow them to speak, saying that it would be opening pandora’s box to do so.
Frederickson said there was “no doubt” that trust had been severed with the city council, a trust he said he wanted to build. He moved to limit the council’s discussion time and prematurely close the agenda item of discussing and approving Kost’s resignation, but alderperson Dawn Rog requested that discussion continue.
“You chose to have this special meeting. You chose to put this on here. This meeting is costing the taxpayers $1000 for us to be here…I think that we still have questions from what you just got done saying.”
Members of council asked for a closed session agenda item at the next city council in order to be apprised of the personnel information regarding the city employee that Frederickson referred to throughout the meeting, information that by statute is not open to the public.
During his mayoral campaign, Frederickson said city government had “done a pretty good job of staying behind doors,” with an open office being a keynote to his election platform. That openness was called into question Monday night.
Kirby and alderperson Tom Kelly said the mayor’s door is kept closed throughout the day and locked when not occupied, a marked change from previous custom.
“[It’s] hard to be transparent when you’re behind a closed door,” Kelly said, noting that many other city officials work with their offices open. “It’s frustrating to walk into city hall and see you in the office with your door closed.”
“Open door means they are able to come in; I’m not going to stop anybody from coming in,” Frederickson noted.
Frederickson also confirmed after the meeting that he had asked Rhinelander police chief Lloyd Gauthier to bring recording equipment for use in the mayoral office, which Gauthier confirmed he had done Wednesday morning prior to Frederickson’s catalytic meeting with Kost.
Frederickson said the equipment was for note-taking purposes, and “to clearly capture what’s being said.” He added that he had not yet turned it on or used it to monitor any meetings.
Frederickson met with GovHR, the company in charge of hiring the next city administrator, on Saturday after applications closed April 27. The council tabled the discussion of hiring an interim administrator until the next Finance, Wage, and Salary committee meeting next week.