Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Mayor cuts job of top city official

Move startles member of Independence council

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

INDEPENDENCE - The new mayor of this fast-growing city said he is eliminating the city administrator's job to save money, prompting concern from at least one startled council member.

Mark Wendling, who was hired as Independence city administrator in January 2001, learned Friday that his contract will not be renewed at the end of the month, Mayor Chris Moriconi said Monday.

"It's nothing negative toward Mark,'' said Moriconi, who took office in January and immediately began streamlining costs. "We wish him the best. This is simply a cost-cutting measure to create a more efficient government.''

The move is to keep the city on a healthy financial footing, the mayor said. He said he plans to meet soon with various city departments and should have more information within two weeks on how Independence can cut costs without jeopardizing city services.

Elimination of the city administrator's job will save Independence about $90,000 a year in salary, benefits and a city car, Moriconi said.

The mayor, who stops by Independence city offices each morning, said he, City Clerk Pat Taney and Police Chief Shawn Butler will share the city administrator's duties. Butler and Taney said they had been informed they would be taking on more duties but had not yet discussed the details with the mayor.

Moriconi said he called each of the six City Council members on Friday after notifying Wendling of his decision.

"I had no idea this was coming,'' Independence council member Mary Pat Behler said Monday. "I think that this is a real detriment to the city.''

Behler said she is concerned about the city not having a full-time city administrator to help monitor planning and zoning issues. Moriconi said about 300 homes a year are built in Independence. The 2000 census put the city's population at 14,982, a 43.5 percent increase from 1990.

"I think that this is a short-term solution for a long-term problem that is just going to get worse,'' Behler said. "All of the department heads have said they need more staff. With this change, the staff they have is going to have to do more work.''

Behler said she also is concerned about the police chief taking on more duties.

"He has a big enough job as it is,'' she said. "I think that his position should be strictly law enforcement issues.''

Council member Jim Ellison said the mayor has the authority not to renew the administrator's contract and he respects that.

Independence City Attorney Jed Deters said he expects a resolution to end Wendling's contract will be brought before council at a special meeting sometime this month.

During recent budget discussions, Ellison said he proposed that Independence institute a hiring freeze to help deal with declining city revenues.

Other City Council members could not be reached for comment Monday.

Wendling, who served as assistant administrator in Delhi Township before taking the job in Independence, declined to discuss the elimination of his position or his future plans when reached at his Villa Hills home on Monday.

Wendling, who holds a master's degree in public administration from Northern Kentucky University, replaced Gary Scott, who is now Dayton, Ky.'s city administrator.

Moriconi said his motivation simply is "to lead by example and let the taxpayers know that we're looking at ways to make government more efficient and maintain the same quality of service.''

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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