Hokah

Rod Blank’s 38-year career working for the City of Hokah will conclude at the end of the month, with current City Clerk Eric Leitzen expected to take over his duties.

The Hokah City Council accepted a letter of resignation from Blank at its Jan. 2 meeting. Blank said this week that he’s been considering retiring for the past few years and added that he shared his decision to retire with Mayor Mike Walsh and Leitzen about a month before the January council meeting.

First hired to run the Hokah Police Department in 1977, Blank retired from law enforcement in 2005, before he became the part-time city administrator in 2007. Blank said he was considered as a top candidate because of his experience working with FEMA, at a time when the county was recovering from record flooding.

The council also voted at the Jan. 2 meeting to allow Leitzen to absorb Blank’s city administrator duties. Leitzen, who was hired to the part-time clerk’s position in 2015, manages payroll, budgeting and billing for the city. Blank said Leitzen will now be responsible for city management responsibilities as well his duties as the clerk.

Starting in February, Leitzen will switch to a 35-hour weekly schedule in place of his current 22 hours. Leitzen currently makes $16.67 an hour, while Blank makes $23.30 an hour. It has yet to be decided if Leitzen will get a raise in his new role.

“He’s going to take over my duties, and I’ll just put it like that,” Blank said. “I don’t know what they’ll call his position, but it’ll be what my job is now.”

Council member Don Bissen has known Blank for more than 30 years, but said he wasn’t aware of Blank’s plan to step down. Bissen said the council was confident that Blank’s departure wouldn’t leave the city shorthanded, and that in the past the city has had one person successfully handle both jobs.

The decision to have Leitzen succeed Blank instead of fielding outside candidates was supported by Blank, Bissen said, but council members generally agreed that Leitzen had the right attitude to make a good city administrator.

“I think it was pretty much unanimous that we can probably work with Eric,” Bissen said, and that Blank had already started showing Leitzen parts of his job that he’d be responsible for. “We have an open mind that he can probably do it.”

Leitzen said he was fully prepared for the upgrade in responsibilities, and that he stated in his interview for the clerk position in 2015 that he could handle both positions if Blank were to retire. He said Blank will make himself available until the end of the month for questions about the job and to ease him into things. Leitzen said he plans to work both roles for a few months to decide whether or not he’s able to handle the workload, and report back to the council on his findings.

“I’ve experienced what the position is, and Rod (Blank) has been very good at communicating with me about what his job entails, what’s important and what needs to be done,” Leitzen said. “I think I’ve got the basic experience, and I’m looking forward to accepting the new challenges and moving forward by taking on the new responsibilities and seeing how I can help the city.”

Before he was hired as the city’s clerk three year ago, Leitzen had no previous experience in city government. He studied history in college, worked at the Chamber of Commerce in Lanesboro before coming to Hokah, and before that worked with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and as a substitute teacher in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Leitzen said he’s excited for the opportunity to step into an administrative role for the city, and plans to build on the positive things already happening around town.

“The biggest thing the whole city has been working on, both in the city office and with the Hokah Forever group, which is just to kind of open Hokah up,” he said. “We’re trying to get some folks in here to rent out the office space in the new school building, and trying to get more people to come to the town, spend some time here, get to know us and just sort of make Hokah a fun place to be.”

The council also accepted a letter of resignation from Wastewater Treatment Director Chris Oliver at their Jan. 2 meeting. Oliver currently works full-time for the city. Council members agreed to start advertising for Oliver’s replacement, but set no hiring timeline.

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Houston County News reporter

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