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Burlington City Manager Staying Put

Jason Parrott
Burlington City Manager Jim Ferneau retracted his resignation this week, following an outpouring of support from city leaders, staff and members of the community.

The public comment portion of Burlington City Council meetings is designed to let citizens address aldermen, so it was a little unusual for one of its own to step to the podium Monday night. But Mayor Shane McCampbell had a purpose: to encourage City Manager Jim Ferneau to rescind his resignation, which Ferneau submitted August 4.

“This is serious business Jim,” said McCampbell. “After many emails and letters received over the last few weeks from city staff, department heads, citizens, and local businessmen, I am compelled to do what a mayor should do in a time such as this: I must ask you to stay on as our city manager. Not only to finish out this year, but to commit to at least the end of 2018.

“We are so close to reaching goals that were implemented by you and we are still in the midst of projects that just cannot be finished without the present team assembled to make sure everything continues as planned. I realize, as does the council, that you made your decision and you are satisfied with it. As the council and the city, we are not satisfied.”

McCampbell reminded Ferneau about what he told him after Ferneau’s hiring more than five years ago.

“I told you, years ago, when you first came here that we were going to be like a small family and as a small family, we can be honest with each other,” said McCampbell. “The honesty for you is that you know this job and you have already cultivated a relationship with staff. You know the surprises that are facing us these next few years and you have already begun the process of how you will help us to face them. You have a good support team around you, yes even at city hall, and as you continue to deal with the perplexities of life.

“I, as the mayor, and we, as the city council of Burlington, Iowa, collectively reject your resignation immediately and we are calling you back to work as our permanent city manager right now.”

McCampbell asked for an immediate response, which Ferneau provided.

“There have been a lot of comments that have come across the last couple of weeks. I know you all have received them and I have too. It has been a nice, tremendous help for me,” said Ferneau.

Ferneau said his family had been through a lot this year, following the death of his daughter in a traffic crash several months ago.  And he said there had also been some changes in City Hall since he announced his resignation.

“I try to do what I can and I don’t do it pretty good sometimes, but the goal here is to do whatever comes in front of us as well as we can, not for ourselves but for what we demonstrate for the world around us,” said Ferneau. “That starts for me, first and foremost, with taking care of my family and this year is unique with that.

“But given that part of taking care of my family is making sure they are in the right place too and I can retract my resignation for now.”

Ferneau did not commit to any time period for remaining as city manager.

The following day, he told Tri States Public Radio that the change he referred to in City Hall was the resignation of Tim Scott as alderman.

Scott, who is also a former mayor, offered his resignation in a letter read by McCampbell during a city council workshop on August 14. Scott did not attend the meeting.

Ferneau previously told Tri States Public Radio that multiple emails from an unnamed city council member questioned city operations, which prompted his resignation. It was later revealed that the emails came from Scott.

Ferneau said he hopes to put the situation behind the city and move forward. To that end, immediately after retracting his resignation, he updated the city council on a possible grant application to build boat docks along the riverfront.

The city is accepting letters of interest from residents interested in being appointed to replace Scott, whose term expires at the end of the year. The city will accept the letters through Sept. 6 and interview candidates on Sept. 11 if necessary.

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.