The Woodstock City Council approved a controversial restructuring of municipal staff last week, a plan meant to lower the number of staff directly reporting to City Manager Roscoe Stelford.
The new policy, which will add two new executive directors whose salaries and benefits could cost up to almost $200,000 apiece each year, proved to be contentious. A group of residents came out to the council meeting at the Woodstock Opera House to tell their elected officials they had concerns with the move.
Most felt hiring more staff beneath the directors of the city’s departments – for example, to the teams that run the Opera House, public works, library, economic development and planning and zoning services – would be more prudent than installing new leaders above the department heads to serve as a layer between them and the city manager’s office.
Stelford currently oversees more than a dozen employees, and Mayor Mike Turner had proposed the new staffing plan after taking office this year as a way of allowing Stelford to better focus on developing strategies to grow and improve the city.
Resident Randy Tipp was among those who said reducing the number of direct reports to Stelford would be good, but was against adding the executive positions to the city payroll as a way to do so.
“Direct reports I will agree are an issue. I think for Roscoe to do the extra things the council wants him to do, we need to relieve that,” Tipp said. “The difference of opinion I have is I think you can do that without an executive position and do that with people that are currently in director positions now, giving them the extra tools and resources to do the job. They’ve proven all along they can do a great job.”
The council ultimately approved the new staff structure, in a 5-1 vote, with council member Wendy Piersall the sole opponent.
“I don’t see other people in the organization that can grow the city like Roscoe can. That’s where I want his focus,” council member Bob Seegers said.
Council member Gordie Tebo was absent from the vote because of a vacation planned before the staff restructuring proposal was pitched, but made his concerns known through a letter read by Piersall. Tebo said in the letter that he likely would have voted “no” if present because he felt residents and the city needed more time to consider the idea.
Piersall was against hiring more than one executive director. The two new positions could be filled as soon as the current budget year and include an executive director of business development and an executive director of strategy and planning.
“The case has been made for the business development director, not for the director of strategy and planning. Finally, the public input on this is overwhelmingly against it,” Piersall said, arguing for the addition of the one director position and a full-time marketing and public affairs professional instead of a second director.
The business development director would be in charge of the heads of the departments of recreation, economic development, the downtown Opera House and the grants and communications manager.
The new strategy and planning head would oversee the directors of information technology, human resources and building and zoning departments.
A third position, executive director of operations, was added to the city’s organizational chart with the council decision, but that job, which would oversee the departments of public works, finance and the library, remains unfunded and unfilled for now.
Last month, two top Woodstock staffers aired their fears of the restructuring plan in a public meeting, with Human Resources Director Deborah Schober warning she’d heard some city department directors may “leave the organization or feel threatened” under the reconfigured staff chart.
Council members Tom Nierman and Seegers were initially skeptical of Turner’s proposal, with Nierman remaining opposed as late as last month and undecided coming into last week’s meeting.
But Nierman said he was convinced to support the plan after hearing from some of the residents opposed to Turner’s idea last week, because they said they were OK with the city making changes and believed some addition of staff was the right move, but not at the management level.
“Your arguments against this actually kind of pushed me towards it,” Nierman said to the opponents. “What you were saying actually will be achieved by this plan.”