MONTE VISTA—Due to building frustrations within city departments the Monte Vista City Council called a special meeting Tuesday evening, March 28 with several department heads. The main topic of discussion was the lack of authority for long-term project and hiring decisions over the past few months while City Manager Forrest Neuerburg has been out or limited due to health reasons.
In December Public Works Director Rob Vance was given authority to make decisions in Neuerburg’s absence; however the city manager has been in a part-time capacity the past few weeks making lines of authority unclear. With Neuerburg currently out on medical leave again, the decision was made Tuesday to give Vance full administrative and decision making authority as an acting city administrator until Neuerburg has made a complete recovery.
Present at Tuesday’s meeting were Mayor Debbie Garcia, Councilor Carol Schroeder and Councilor Matthew Martinez. Others in attendance included City Clerk Unita Vance, HR Director Courtney Baker, Finance Director Heather Hixson, IT Director Jim Belknap, Police Chief Evan Lopez, City Attorney Karen Lintott, Recreation Director Jaime Hurtado and Interim City Clerk Judy Egbert.
The department heads and Vance expressed similar frustrations with their ability to complete their current and long-term projects without the presence of Neuerburg. Vance stated “there is no clear direction as to what we as staff are supposed to do” regarding long-term projects.
Vance and Baker have been splitting day-to-day necessary tasks but Vance lacks the authority to approve long-term community development projects, for example and he and Baker lack the authority to make hiring decisions. With Neuerburg in the office part-time over the last couple of weeks, city employees have been unsure of who to speak to. “It’s nobody’s fault. It’s certainly not Forrest’s fault; he wants to be here. The department heads are just flying blind,” Vance added, “ There is nothing tonight that would imply ‘the sky is falling’ but we need to start planning,” before something happens that could leave the city liable.
The recreation department and police department echoed the frustrations with being unable to hire new employees, as Neuerburg had intended to create a plan with Hurtado to hire additional employees for the upcoming busy season and the police department had hoped to fill their open part-time positions. Overtime is becoming an issue for both departments; Hixson pointed out that the police department has already used about half of their annual overtime budget. The recreation department hires can not be decided without the authority of the city manager. The IT department and police department also both expressed frustration at not being able to approve purchases they had planned for equipment and vehicles, because the price bids that they are provided with are usually time-sensitive.
Mayor Garcia and the two councilors shaped a motion with much discussion that gives Vance 100 percent administrative authority and full decision-making authority as an acting city administrator until Neuerburg has made a complete recovery.
Vance expressed concern about Neuerburg, asking if he is protected, stating that he does not want to challenge his position. Garcia responded by stating “Our primary concern is Forrest’s recovery. We are helping aid in his recovery by alleviating the pressure on him to return to work before he is ready to deal with standing issues.” Garcia explained that time is of the essence on some of the matters that the department heads had brought up and it would be best to avoid further confusion about who is in charge of any particular project if one administrator’s decisions were respected fully and acted upon. “We want Forrest to return when he is feeling 100 percent healthy and ready to take the position back full-time.”