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DeKalb city manager recommending high-level staff reductions

Nicklas proposes sweeping changes to address $1.1M budget deficit

DeKALB – In a bombshell list of actions to address a $1.1 million budget deficit, City Manager Bill Nicklas has proposed laying off four high-level management staff members.

Set for a vote during Monday’s City Council meeting, the proposal would lay off Public Works Director Tim Holdeman, Community Development Director Jo Ellen Charlton, Information Technology Director Marc Thorson and Assistant Finance Director Robert Miller, effective March 1.

Nicklas emphasized that the decision is not based on performance and does not reflect disciplinary action; rather, it would be for fiscal purposes.

“I spent the better part of this first month scouring our finances, the budget and talking with individuals about what we can do that would not compromise essential services,” Nicklas said Thursday. “It was not a quick decision or an easy decision.”

Nicklas said it became clearer to him that he would have to start looking into upper management roles and begin discussions, which he said were held one-on-one with each individual for about 10 days.

“I was very frank and honest about it,” Nicklas said. “The one thing I want everybody to know is this is not about performance. This is about the fiscal needs of the organization. What I’ve been trying to do is right-size our government based on the level of funding we have.”

According to the agenda, the layoffs would save the city $1,105,258.

“The City Council has been unanimous in its policy direction that our new manager’s primary responsibility would be to lead financial restructuring, resulting in a more clearly defined fiscal policy,” Mayor Jerry Smith said in a statement Thursday. “It has not been a pleasant thing to do.”

Nicklas said other city personnel, including himself, would have to step up to meet service demands left by the four individuals. With a declaration that “leaders lead,” Nicklas’ agenda proposal also includes a $30,000 cut to his own $150,000 salary, effective March 1, to help with budget-saving measures.

The council also will vote Monday whether to officially appoint Jeff McMaster DeKalb’s fire chief and Raymond Munch the assistant city manager, effective Feb. 1.

McMaster – who is receiving $139,500 as interim chief – would receive a base salary of $141,244. His predecessor, Eric Hicks, was earning $145,003 as a base salary when he retired in November. Munch made $81,180 as a management analyst and would be set to receive a midrange salary of $131,457.

Three positions will be eliminated once vacated. Economic Development Planner Jason Michnick’s position will stay vacant when he leaves Feb. 1, and the deputy fire chief role will stay vacant once Jim Zarek retires Feb. 15. The role of finance director will be eliminated after Molly Talkington’s severance package agreement is completed July 7.

Nicklas said if the council supports his proposal Monday, the four individuals essentially will have a 30-days notice.

“I expect them to work through that period,” Nicklas said. “I understand this is a period where they may be looking for a job, but the expectation is that they will remain on the job and working professionally, which they’ve all said they intend to do.”

Nicklas said he can’t speak highly enough of the level of professionalism exhibited by Charlton, Holdeman, Thorson and Miller, as they all came to a decision together.

Charlton, Holdeman, Thorson and Miller did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

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