Albert Rukwaro
Special to The Gardner News
Gardner mayor Steve Shute selected Jim Pruetting to replace Cheryl Harrison-Lee as the new city administrator during a council meeting April 15.
During public comments, Heath Freeman, former planning commissioner and city council member, voiced concerns regarding the administrative contract.
The council voted 4-1 to confirm Pruetting’s four-year, $150,000 appointment after a 20 minute executive session and a discussion that centered on Pruetting’s qualification for the job and a bonus clause in his contract.
Randy Gregorcyk, councilmember, voted against the appointment saying Pruetting, who is the current police chief, lacked the requisite qualifications for the position.
“This is like KU Medical Center hiring someone then paying for him to go to school to become a doctor,” said Gregorcyk.
But Rich Melton, councilmember, disagreed, comparing Pruetting’s appointment to former presidential candidate Herman Cain being hired as head of a pizza chain even though he did not know how to make pizza.
“Herman Cain was hired by Godfathers pizza; he was successful even though he did not know how to make pizza,” said Melton.
According to the contract, the city will pay for Pruetting to go to graduate school for a certificate in city and county administration and offered him a $15,000 bonus upon graduation.
Gregorcyk said besides the lack of a degree in city management, Pruetting did not have any experience in economic development, infrastructure development or annexation.
He also questioned the legality of a clause in Pruetting’s contract that will pay him an extra $2,500 for every 250 acres that the city annexes up to a maximum of 4,000 acres.
According to the ICMA code of ethics, “Public office is a public trust. A member shall not leverage his or her position for personal gain or benefit.”
“The process of annexation is a team work that requires the input of other city staff. Are we paying the others a bonus?” Gregorcyk asked during the meeting.
Melton said the annexation bonus clause was his idea, and he wanted the new administrator to be incentivized to go out there and push the process of annexation forward.
Melton is a real estate professional in the city.
Lee Moore, council president, said he was discouraged by insinuations that the city is hiring an unqualified candidate for the job.
“I don’t think it is provable at this time that he doesn’t have the skill set. To say that the education and skill set are lacking is pre-mature,” said Moore, adding that he has seen comments to that effect on social media.
“I’ve seen it on social media, and it’s unfortunate. It couldn’t be further from the truth,” he said. “This is why you won’t be seeing me here for much longer.”
Moore said that Pruetting has the leadership qualities needed for the job, and he has the support of city staff.
“I don’t have time for dishonesty. I don’t like it that people are saying it’s an old school boys’ club, and you probably won’t see me here for much longer,” he said.
Pruetting told The Gardner News after the vote that he would be enrolling to the University of Kansas this summer to begin the process of getting the graduate certification stipulated in the contract.
During the meeting, the council dispersed Exhibit 1 which had not been included in the online contract. According to the “separation of employment and general release,” Pruetting would receive a severance equal to six months of his current salary if he leaves as city administrator.