The year 2014 isn’t over yet, but the City of Platteville already knows its number one priority for 2015:
Find a new city manager.
The Common Council accepted the resignation of City Manager Larry Bierke 5–2 after an executive session Nov. 25. Bierke’s last day with the city will be May 1.
District 1 Ald. Barb Stockhausen and at-large Ald. Dick Bonin voted against accepting the resignation.
One day earlier, Bierke had sent a memo to the council informing them that he would not be accepting a new contract for 2015 because of two changes from Bierke’s second contract, signed in late 2011 — its residency requirement and his pay.
“According to the city council (from 2011), I meet the residency requirements of my current employment contract,” said Bierke in his memo. “If I were to agree to the change in the standard of residency, as you are proposing, I may end up in a position of having to choose between my family and my job.”
“The employment contract included language that I had to live within a 15-minute radius of the city of Platteville,” said Bierke the morning after his resignation was accepted. “The state passed a law that said they couldn’t do that, but the city council thought otherwise.”
Bierke’s memo also said that the 2015 contract “set salary and compensation at a level that was 1.7 percent less than what was paid in 2010 (five years ago), while also changing the residency requirement. I have difficulty accepting any proposal that agrees to a compensation that is less than what I made five years ago.
“I wish I could have stayed forever. … I truly want to remain your city manager, however these conditions of employment are not something I am willing to continue accepting.”
Bierke and the council didn’t come to an agreement on a contract for 2014, so he worked this year under his 2013 contract.
“No matter what decisions they had to make, I knew it was a difficult decision to make,” he said. “Leadership is making these tough decisions.
“In a democracy, elected officials represent the community that put them in office. And elected officials are theoretically doing what the community desires, and I can’t be mad at them about that.”
A news release sent by the city late Nov. 25 said that “the City and Bierke have accomplished a great deal for the community and its 12,000 residents.”
The release noted increases in the city’s tax base, bringing new businesses to the community, expanding the industry park, overseeing damage from the June 16 tornadoes, and “significant” growth in city population.
“The City is very thankful for the service and many hours of dedication that Bierke has shown the City, and is also excited for the new opportunities that the future will present,” the news release said.
Bierke, formerly the Mount Horeb village administrator, became Platteville’s 10th city manager in December 2010. Bierke had resigned in Mount Horeb because of disagreement with some members of the Village Board over whether economic development should be pursued, according to published reports.
While Bierke’s tenure as city manager saw considerable economic growth, it also featured controversy. City hourly employees saw their hours decreased from 40 to 37 per week starting in 2012, though the 2015 city budget returns their work to 40 hours per week. The Municipal Building has been closed on nearly all Fridays since 2012.
Bierke also hired a communications coordinator as a new position, which was opposed by at least two aldermen. The position was created over concerns of lack of communication between city government and its residents.
“Most of the things I do, if not all of them, are directed by the Common Council,” he said. “I have very few unilateral decisions that I can make, and it would be rather foolish to make controversial decision without their support.”
Bierke credited city staff, including Police Chief Doug McKinley, Fire Chief Ryan Simmons and EMS Administrator Brian Allen, for the city’s response following the June 16 tornadoes.
“This city has such an amazing staff that I don’t think people realize how well people have it in Platteville,” said Bierke.
Bierke’s not living full-time in Platteville has been an issue. When he was hired in Platteville, he swapped houses with the retiring city manager, Dave Berner. Shortly after that, however, he began a relationship with a Mount Horeb woman who works in Maple Bluff.
“I’m very happy with that relationship, and that relationship has taken priority in my life,” said Bierke. “Is residency really something that’s important in 2014, 2015?”
Four of the people who voted to hire Bierke are no longer on the council. Alds. Mike Dalecki and Steve Becker were defeated in the 2013 election, and Alds. Ed White and John Miller retired from the council.
“A minority of the city council are not fans of my work,” said Bierke. “Certainly a majority of the city’s accomplishments occurred early on. As the honeymoon period changed and elected officials changed, the city has not been as quick to secure major accomplishments.”
Bierke also sees a difference between how he thinks the city manager position should operate, and how some of the council believes it should operate.
“I’m a supporter of the city manager position, especially as compared to a city administrator,” he said. “In Platteville, city council members who have been there the longest don’t treat the position as it’s laid out in state statutes. There is a desire to become more involved by the longer-term council members than perhaps what state statutes intended.
“There are plenty of policies, statutes and ordinances that exist that govern that role and those relationships. The key is to follow them.”
Bierke has a list of things that didn’t get done and that he believes need to be done.
“I would like to see reform at the Platteville museums,” he said. “I would like to see Platteville in a much better financial position. I would like to see greater commercial opportunities in our community, more businesses. And I would liked to have been a more aggressive partner at filling our new industrial park property.”
Bierke said the city budget is “by far the city’s biggest hurdle in the short term — we need to be more aggressive in trying to secure revenue streams that grow.”
Bierke said there are “a number of good projects on the horizon, and knowing the city council and city staff, they will go smoothly,” listing the Library Block project and the future redevelopment of the old Pioneer Ford site and possibly McGregor Plaza.
“From the beginning, one thing I wanted to do was instill a sense of pride in the community,” he said. “As I lived here longer, I realized people are very happy with their community, and that became very apparent with the tornado recovery. And I think as a community, that’s something to be proud of.”
As for his plans past May 1, Bierke said he’s looking “forward to being gainfully unemployed for a while, and seeing where that takes me.”