Monday, August 20, 2007

Who's really to blame for the city manager problems leading to his early retirement

In recent weeks there has been a spate of vicious comments by some on various blogs concerning city manager Richard Wollangk. I suspect today’s announcement concerning his retirement, effective Oct. 13, will prompt another round of equally nasty remarks. It is one thing to be critical of his performance – many of us have; it is quite another to be ugly, nasty and just downright inhumane about it. I also think the one thing that too many people seem to have either forgotten or completely overlooked is the fact that Wollangk’s performance, for better or worse, is at least partially the result of actions or lack thereof of every single city councilor who has served since the day Wollangk was hired (the two exceptions being first-time councilors just elected in April - Jess King and Tony Palmeri). We’ve all heard the expression “We reap what we sow.” So it is in this case.

The Oshkosh Common Council hired and supervised Richard Wollangk. As with any employer-employee relationship, the council needed to set expectations and establish ground rules in the beginning of the relationship. As the relationship unfolded, if a council didn’t like what the city manager was doing, those council members needed to take responsibility for letting him know and telling him what they expected. As the landscape of the city changed, it should have been the further responsibility of the council to review the changes and to see, if we as a city, were still headed in the right direction. If not, the council needed to make clear the new direction it wanted the city manager to take. Only by doing so could both parties be successful. That didn’t happen and suddenly when there were problems as there have been in the last couple of years, everyone was complaining about the city manager or the city manager and his department heads. There is blame there, to be sure, but past common councils must assume some of the blame as well.

I recently learned that a list of REAL goals was given to the city council shortly after Richard Wollangk was hired, but that the goals were essentially dismissed out of hand. It has only been in the last couple of years, as there appeared to be a lack of accountability at city hall, that we’ve heard anything about any goals or tasks being assigned to him – uninspired and unchallenging as they were.

Now we are at a turning point in the city of Oshkosh. Already there is talk about changing the form of government and who will lead the city no matter the form our government takes. There will always be those who want only the city manager form of government and there will always be those who want a mayoral form of government. Then there are those who want a mayoral-aldermanic form of government. Still there are others who may wish for some combination of the two. We’ll be hearing much in coming weeks about these different options. But one thing’s for sure: Before we set out on a nationwide search for a city manager, we’d best get settled, ideally by referendum, what form of government the people in this community want. If we don’t, we will have little to no luck in attracting a quality professional city manager. After all, who would want to come here when there’s a possibility that they’d be out of a job by a change in government a few years, or less, down the road? And we don't need or want a repeat of what happened 11 years ago. So, let’s put the form of government issue to a community-wide vote, get the issue resolved and get moving in a forward and positive direction – once and for all.

Finally, to Richard Wollangk, while you may have fallen short along the way, thank you for all that you have done and accomplished in Oshkosh, especially since 1997. Best wishes to you in the next chapter of your professional life.


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