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Archive for Saturday, January 25, 1992

COMMISSIONERS HOLD WILDGEN IN HIGH REGARD

January 25, 1992

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When City Manager Mike Wildgen receives his annual evaluation Monday during a closed-door session with city commissioners, he must endure the scrutiny of one local authority on city government.

Commissioner John Nalbandian, a professor at Kansas University, has taught public administration since 1976 and has written a book on the evolving role of the city manager.

"I've been studying this stuff for 15 years," Nalbandian said. "I've talked to hundreds of city managers, and I've got a pretty good idea of what it takes."

Although Nalbandian wouldn't reveal the specifics of the evaluations, he had nothing but praise for Wildgen.

"I think he's doing an excellent job," he said.

Commissioner Bob Schumm has his own ideas about what makes a good city manager.

"In general, I'm very pleased with our city and the way it has been run, and I think that it continues to improve," Schumm said.

"Managing city hall is as large and tough a requirement as any business in town," he said. "The term `city manager' is lacking. It really means, in my opinion, chief executive officer."

It's like running a company, Schumm said, except Wildgen must fill three positions at once: leader, follower and public relations director.

THE MOST important quality in a good city manager is being able to listen to the city commissioners, said Commissioner Shirley Martin-Smith.

"A good city manager is someone who is very good at following the instructions of the city commission," she said. "I expect that from a city manager."

"I want to know that what we agree on is carried out," echoed Schumm.

The commission must be able trust that its policies are being implemented, Nalbandian said.

"He and his staff have to be knowledgeable and they have to respect the general governing body," he said.

At the same time, the city manager must be able to work with the public.

"When a constituent has a problem, we want it taken care of and we want the citizens to feel good about the decision," Schumm said. "We need him to endorse the quality of our product."

A GOOD city manager also needs to be sensitive to the needs of the public, Martin-Smith said. "He has to have a good sense of how the community wants to be."

As city mananger, Wildgen is responsible for the city's budget and 500-plus employees, and he must answer to the city commission.

"He's responsible for the $44 million budget, the city employees, the buildings, the infrastructure," Nalbandian said. "Regardless of who is on or off the city commission over the years, he's the one we hold responsible over time."

In fact, the city manager's evaluation is in essence a critique of the entire city staff and administration, which the city manager oversees.

Nalbandian praised the current members of the city manager's staff. He taught three of them at Kansas University Assistant City Manager Rod Bremby, Management Analyst Dave Corliss, and intern Tammy Bannister.

Wildgen and staff ``. . .do their job well enough so that we don't have to worry about the day-to-day operations of the city, and to the city commission that's a relief, Nalbandian said.

"We never have to tell staff, `Be careful about how you spend the money,' because they already are. We don't have to tell them, `Work with the neighborhood groups,' because they already do."

Nalbandian cited the creation of a ordinance regulating mobile home and manufactured home parks as an excellent example of the competence of the city manager's staff.

"They took an issue that was very argumentative and contentious, and by the time they sent the ordinance to the city, both sides agreed with it," he said.

"The public doesn't see that. A lot of the time the city manager doesn't get credit for the people he surrounds himself with."

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