NEWS

City manager resigns

John Sharp

When City Manager Randy Oliver arrived in Peoria about four years ago, he attended a memorable neighborhood meeting that included several other city employees.

It was memorable to him not because of what the meeting was about, but because of a moment then-Police Chief John Stenson had with a dead animal.

"There was a dead raccoon or opossum," Oliver recalled. "(Stenson) went and got a shovel and picked it up and put in the trash. The news cameras followed him around and I thought it was a real public relations opportunity. … It’s one of the things I remember."

Oliver, 57, recalled a few of those lighter moments during a news conference Wednesday in which he announced his resignation, effective Feb. 15. He also reflected upon more significant moments as well, ranging from his dealings with a medical school project to the recent issues involving jaywalking.

He said he plans to do more consulting work after Feb. 15. He and wife, Valorie, also plan to travel.

"It has been a pleasure to serve as city manager for the city of Peoria," he said from City Council chambers, a few feet from where he has sat many Tuesday nights since December 2003. "This was a difficult decision because of the many friends we have acquired."

Oliver’s announcement came a day after the council held a more-than-hour-long executive session to discuss his future.

Oliver will stay on with the city for 30 days to help with training a yet-to-be-determined interim manager.

Mayor Jim Ardis said Wednesday that a permanent replacement could be hired by May, if the council decides to "fast track" a process that could include a national search.

More details about how the council plans to handle the manager search will be discussed next Tuesday.

"I think Randy came in during a pretty difficult time and transitioned well and he has accomplished a lot of good things since he’s been here," Ardis said. "It’s not unusual after three to four years for a city manager to move along. It’s not a bad thing or a bad reflection on the city."

Oliver announced his resignation standing by himself with mostly city staff members in the audience. No council members were involved.

He and Ardis denied that the relationship between the manager and the council was strained or that it had any impact on Oliver’s decision.

"I don’t think the absence of council members was an indication of problems," Ardis said. "I think we do all have full-time jobs in addition to the City Council."

Added Oliver, "the council and I have a wonderful working relationship. Like most places, you won’t agree with everybody. When I first came to Peoria, I said (a council vote of) 8-3 is a landslide and I still stand by that position."

According to city information, Oliver will earn a minimum severance payout of about 10 months worth of his $158,297 salary, which is about $132,000, plus benefits.

As for Oliver’s eventual replacement, at-large Councilman Eric Turner said with the city possibly facing a large budget deficit in 2009, the timing could be difficult for someone to be brought up-to-date on the city’s finances.

Oliver’s exit from City Hall comes shortly after two other top ranking officials have left. Longtime human resources director Pat Parsons resigned in November and Craig Whitehead, the assistant city manager, left last month after his job was cut from the 2008 budget.

Turner said he is concerned about perceptions the public may have following these recent exits.

"I don’t know what the citizens think, but I will tell you it worries me," he said. "Anybody on the council would have to be worried. You can’t do much with an interim (city manager) in place other than hold things where they are. No new programs will come forward."

Ardis disagrees and thinks the public should not be worried.

"The city of Peoria is a good employer and I think our compensation package is competitive and I think (the manager’s) position will attract high quality candidates," he said.

John Sharp can be reached at (309) 686-3282 or jsharp@pjstar.com.