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Next West Allis city head won't have to do it all

City will split Ziehler's duties upon his retirement

March 4, 2014

West Allis — Weeks of debate about whether to replace the retiring city administrator or increase the duties of department heads ended with the Common Council deciding to do both.

As managers left or retired and the city economized by spreading work to others, City Administrator Paul Ziehler, willing and able, typically shouldered additional responsibilities. As a result, he was doing so much that the city was getting "a free lunch," said Alderman Michael May.

With Ziehler retiring in a few months, the city faced the prospect of recruiting a city administrator/city clerk/head of finance, all in one person — an unlikely possibility, officials decided.

So, the Common Council decided to put some of Ziehler's duties onto division heads and then finding a city administrator to replace Ziehler.

Administrative value

There has been much discussion about saving money by not having a city administrator at all, but when the additional help needed to get all the work done was added up, the savings amounted to only about $15,000 a year, May said.

What would be lost is much more than that, he added.

The head administrator is the Common Council's eyes and ears City Hall, which runs smoothly largely due to the manager's effort, May said.

"If we lost that, it would be much more disjointed and chaotic," May said.

Alderwoman Kathleen Probst agreed. Without a city administrator there would be no central figure to coordinate operations, she noted.

"There would be an awful lot of things that would fall through the cracks," Probst said.

Too much to do?

But that opinion was not unanimous. Alderman Michael Czaplewski was disappointed that the position of administrator will remain.

"We had an opportunity to save money here," Czaplewski said.

He had suggested moving the finance manager/comptroller up and adding an accountant to take a portion of his former duties.

But the council didn't favor the plan.

The reason some of Ziehler's duties will be handed off to division heads, who would become department heads under the plan, is because aldermen doubted they could find someone who could do everything Ziehler does.

"The city hired Paul for one thing and then his job ... morphed over 30 years into what it is today," Probst said.

The city needs to make the position more viable so it can recruit someone to fill it, she added.

The name of the position will be the same, but aldermen seem to favor weakening it somewhat.

Less authoritative

Because those who will eventually hold the administrator's job might have a dictatorial bent which Ziehler does not, the tentative plan is to have the Common Council grant contracts to the department heads rather than having the administrator hire and fire them.

That should keep communication lines between department heads and the council free and open, May said. While it has never been Ziehler's style to keep division heads from bringing ideas to the council, that could happen with the current organizational structure, May noted.

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