Council in no rush to replace Hurm

Published 10:50am Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Though the Austin City Council abruptly fired former City Administrator Jim Hurm during its public meeting Monday night, Mayor Tom Stiehm said the council likely won’t take action on hiring a new city administrator until next year, if at all.


Stiehm was hesitant to discuss details of Hurm’s termination, or specifics behind his recent job evaluation, citing data privacy and legal obligations. He said despite the fact Hurm was terminated effective immediately, there was no scandal behind the decision.

“It’s not anything bad, it’s nothing criminal,” Stiehm said.

The council unanimously approved Hurm’s firing Monday after making public the results of Hurm’s latest job evaluation, which was completed in September and shared with the council in November. Though the council and Stiehm found Hurm did an acceptable job in following council wishes, communicating with the public and fiscally managing the city, department heads found Hurm’s job performance “unacceptable with respect to the staff supervision and department heads,” according to the evaluation.

Department heads said Hurm did “not properly manage the goals and expectations of city departments, would not accept and share responsibility for decisions made, and, further, stated that he did not effectively communicate pertinent information to their departments.”

In the evaluation, Hurm indicated he was surprised by how critical department heads were and said he would have liked to communicate with them to rectify the issues.

Stiehm said though the city tries to do annual job evaluations, Hurm was likely last evaluated in 2011. He could not recall the results of Hurm’s last evaluation.

The council accepted the results of Hurm’s evaluation at its Nov. 18 meeting, but have held several closed meetings presumably over Hurm’s employment status.

Stiehm said Hurm’s severance package has not yet been decided.

Hurm’s duties will likely be shared by city officials, with Finance Director Tom Dankert as the city’s senior official. Stiehm said the city likely won’t hire or appoint an interim city administrator.

“Department heads are kind of running their own departments, and we’ll continue to let things go the way they probably have been,” Stiehm said. “We’ll let them continue to run their departments as they have been.”

The council will likely discuss whether to hire a new city administrator next year, with a new city head coming into Austin possibly in late spring, though Stiehm said there’s no timeline to replace Hurm.

“It is not a process that’s easy,” Stiehm said. “A lot of cities have failed and gotten city managers that have not succeeded.”

It remains to be seen if the new city administrator will have the same duties as Hurm did. Stiehm said the council may discuss not hiring a city administrator and allowing the city to run as is, though Stiehm believes the position is necessary.

“We’re going to need a city administrator. There’s so many things coming up, with Vision 2020 and things like that, we’re likely going to need a city administrator,” Stiehm said.

Dankert said the city has budgeted $109,179 for the position in 2014, as Hurm was still employed when city officials drew up the budget.

Hurm has drawn his share of controversy since he was hired in 2003. He was removed as part-time executive director of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority last year, a public fallout with then-board chairman Marv Repinski. Repinski later took Hurm to task for informing the council of his thoughts on current HRA head Jon Erichson while the HRA was still searching for a new director. Erichson was city engineer at the time, and Hurm brought Erichson up as a potential replacement to the City Council before suggesting Erichson to the HRA, which angered several HRA board members.

Hurm also clashed at times with former Fire Chief Mickey Healey over several issues, from a lack of communication concerning EMT training and union negotiations in 2011 to a citation over the fire department assisting with an art project at Austin High School in 2012, to a firefighter schedule change earlier this year.

Former Council Member Marian Clennon accused Hurm of bullying herself and city employees before she left office at the end of last year. Though she also accused other council members of bullying behavior, she and Council Member Steve King sparked discussions over Hurm’s authority to discipline employees without council approval in March of 2012.

“I hear numerous times about employees complaining about issues with the city administrator,” Clennon said during a public meeting.

Stiehm took Clennon to task for her remarks, as he said no other council member heard complaints from city staff.

Under Hurm’s watch, the city also implemented its Austin Main Street Project, which assisted in revitalizing 38 downtown Austin storefronts through public and private funding. Eight housing units were also created through the initiative. The project, which started in 2005, earned Austin a Local Government Innovation Award last year.

Hurm also applied for an administrator position in Elk River in 2011 and didn’t get the job, though he was one of four finalists.

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