City commissioners are conducting an unusually long evaluation of City Manager Mike Wildgen following a year of tough questions about whether the community has adequately planned for growth.
Commissioners on Monday called for a third day of closed-door meetings to discuss Wildgen's annual evaluation, saying they still had more things to discuss.
"I can't tell people what to read into this," Mayor Boog Highberger said following a nearly two-hour executive session at City Hall. "What I would say is that the city manager's evaluation is one of the more important jobs that we do. We want to be thorough."
City commissioners did not set a time to meet again about Wildgen, who has been the city's top executive since 1990. Highberger, though, said another meeting likely would happen before the end of the week. He said commissioners might set a date at tonight's city commission meeting.
Commissioners also did not rule out that Wildgen's job was in jeopardy. When asked if the review was focusing on whether Wildgen should be retained, several commissioners either declined comment or directed all questions to the mayor.
"I really can't say," City Commissioner David Schauner said. "We're just not finished yet. That really is the most honest answer I can give you."
Highberger said the issue of whether Wildgen should be retained was still on the table, but said that technically, that was an issue during every city manager evaluation. The city manager serves solely at the pleasure of the commission, and can be released with a simple three-vote majority.
Commissioners first met on Thursday to conduct Wildgen's annual evaluation. They met for two hours without Wildgen in a closed-door executive session. When they emerged, they said they needed more time and scheduled another session for Monday morning. Commissioners on Monday were originally scheduled to meet two hours, but came out 30 minutes early and said they hadn't yet finished their discussion. Wildgen was in the room for Monday's discussion.
Wildgen said he respected the commission's desire to conduct a more thorough review, and he was continuing with his normal duties.
"It is their call," Wildgen said. "I don't have any announcement to make."
Highberger declined to get into specifics about what performance issues had led to the lengthy review. But Wildgen and staff members have received tough questions regarding whether the city has adequately planned for growth. Concerns about whether the sewer system can handle projected growth in the northwest area of town has stopped some private developments from receiving final city approval.
Amid the concerns, longtime planning director Linda Finger resigned her position at the end of the year after being told by city administrators her future with the city had dimmed.
Commissioners also have expressed concern about a report by the Public Works Department that approximately 30 percent of the city's streets will need major improvements. They have deteriorated to the point where simple repairs will not be adequate.
Wildgen has had extended reviews in the past. Last year commissioners met for two days to discuss his performance, but ultimately voted unanimously to give him a 3 percent pay raise and publicly praised his experience and integrity.
In January 2002, Wildgen was put on a six-month evaluation schedule after commissioners said they wanted him to make city government more "user-friendly." Wildgen was evaluated six months later and received passing grades and a 3 percent raise, though current City Commissioner Mike Rundle voted against the pay increase.
Wildgen has a long history with the city. He came to Lawrence in 1974 as an assistant city manager, but he was made acting city manager following the death of then-city manager Buford Watson in 1989. Wildgen had the acting title removed in April 1990 after commissioners conducted a nationwide search. Wildgen is only the fifth city manager in Lawrence history.