Panel: Switch from mayor to administrator could lessen confrontation

2012-02-15T00:00:00Z 2012-02-15T06:19:43Z Panel: Switch from mayor to administrator could lessen confrontationBy BETSY BLOOM bbloom@lacrossetribune.com La Crosse Tribune
February 15, 2012 12:00 am  • 

A search last year for the Wisconsin city with the most confrontational government produced a new leader: La Crosse.

Green Bay in 2006 topped 280 cities nationwide with populations of 50,000 to 250,000 that responded to a survey by Karl Nollenberger, an assistant professor of public affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh.

Nollenberger updated the survey last summer to include more Wisconsin cities, and La Crosse beat out even national leader Green Bay for the highest level of conflict and the lowest amount of cooperation.

It might be an indication La Crosse needs a city administrator, Nollenberger said.

“Professional management, in my mind, adds value,” said Nollenberger, a former city administrator in Muscatine, Iowa, with 33 years in city and county government.

Nollenberger was among three panelists at a UW-La Crosse forum to discuss pros and cons of a city administrator. La Crosse will hold a binding referendum vote April 3 on whether to adopt an administrator.

As one member of the public noted, the panel offered few cons to offset the pros, represented by Nollenberger and Ed Madere of the Wisconsin City/County Management Association.

Beaver Dam Mayor Tom Kennedy said he didn’t intend to promote his city’s form of government, which lacks an administrator. In almost four years as mayor, however, he’s taken only two weeks of vacation and considers himself to be on the job at all times.

A city administrator might not be willing to make that level of commitment, know a community as well or be willing to stay as long as an elected mayor, Kennedy said.

Only 21 percent, or 29 of 141 cities and villages, have no professional administrator in Wisconsin, Nollenberger said. Among 12 cities with populations of 40,000 to 100,000, only La Crosse and Appleton have stayed with the mayor and council form, he said.

He sees the administrator’s role as “a guiding force,” the mayor and council as “the driving force” in local government.

Ed Madere of the Wisconsin City/County Management Association compared it to being an orchestra conductor, getting everyone to play together — but not setting the program.

“It’s the elected officials that really decide what the music will be,” said Madere, who like Nollenberger worked more than 30 years in local government. “How well it’s played is up to the administrator.”

Still, some in the audience questioned the need and what they saw as a lack of details from city officials on what the administrator would do.

“No one’s really explained to the community how much it will cost,” one man said.

The UW-L forum and an earlier session each drew about 80 people and were sponsored by the League of Women Voters, UW-L Joint Committee on Legislative Relations and the UW-L Political Science Department.

Copyright 2015 La Crosse Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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