Sunset Hills officials evaluating structure of their government after city clerk departs

Mayor: City to improve with Fribis, ‘minions’ in minority

Pat Fribis

Pat Fribis

By Gloria Lloyd

Sunset Hills officials are evaluating whether they want to overhaul how their government operates — perhaps creating the post of city administrator — after the departure last week of one of the city’s longest-serving employees.

City Clerk Laura Rider left last week for the same position in Ladue, where she started this week. Rider served as both the city clerk and finance director for Sunset Hills since 2001, but started working for the city 20 years ago.

Mayor Mark Furrer declined to comment when the Call first reported Rider’s departure last week. He also declined to comment for this article, replying in an email, “Your paper is so biased, childish and incompetent it has lost any credibility it may have had.”

With a key department head position opening up, it gives the city the opportunity to consider changes to how city government could operate, including following the lead of all its surrounding cities to adopt a city manager form of government, other city officials said.

So far, the Personnel Committee, chaired by Ward 1 Alderman Dee Baebler, is spearheading the response to Rider’s departure.

Four of the seven committee members — Baebler, Ward 1 Alderman Richard Gau, acting board President Scott Haggerty and Gary Mathes — met at the beginning of last week with Rider, and Baebler and Gau met at the end of the week with employees to develop an interim plan.

No single employee will hold the title of acting city clerk. Before Rider left, she trained other employees in necessary aspects of her post and divided her various duties among three other employees, Deputy City Clerk Carol Lay, Assistant Finance Director Tina Heischmidt and Court Clerk Linda Younglove. A temp worker was hired for clerical duties so those employees could take on Rider’s work.

The interim arrangement will last roughly a month while the city decides how to proceed in the search for Rider’s more permanent replacement or replacements, Baebler said. Although the open position was first posted internally last week, it will also be posted publicly and a search conducted for the best candidate or candidates. At this time, officials do not yet know if they will keep the city clerk and finance roles together or split them into separate roles that could be filled by existing employees.

Although Baebler connected Rider’s departure to Furrer’s arrival at City Hall last year, Furrer forwarded an email to the Call in which he asked Rider if he was her reason for leaving. Rider responded that he was not and it was a “wonderful opportunity” for her.

The ultimate hiring decision will be made by aldermen and the mayor in collaboration with the Personnel Committee, Ward 3 Alderman Jan Hoffmann said.

“I don’t think we could find a person any better than Laura Rider — I think it’ll be a huge loss to the city,” Hoffmann said. “She’s been a dedicated and exemplary employee the whole time she’s been with the city. She’s always been prompt with any questions I have over the years and has been extremely helpful. I just don’t think you could find a better employee than Laura Rider has been.”

By ordinance, the city is required to have a full-time city clerk and a separate full-time finance director, but historically the city has combined several different positions into a single job as employees leave or retire. One of the issues the Personnel Committee will consider with the departure of Rider is whether to switch to using a city manager or city administrator.

Former Mayor John Hunzeker wrote in an email to aldermen last week that he believes Sunset Hills should have a city administrator. Just about every city the same size already has one, he noted.

“The mayor is paid $500 per month as the executive of the city. Most times you get what you pay for,” Hunzeker wrote. “A CA is required to present BOTH sides of every issue presented to the BOA before a vote. The presence of a CA will remove the politics from the process of municipal governance. A CA serves ‘at will’ — he gets fired, not impeached. What are your thoughts on the issue?”

In an email to Ward 4 Alderman Pat Fribis and Hunzeker, Furrer wrote that the city has managed “perfectly fine for over 50 years” without a city administrator.

“I resent the ‘you get what you pay for’ remark, and we are currently operating at a deficit, so why hire someone we’ve never needed?” Furrer replied. “Now that Pat and her minions are in the minority and no longer control the city, I guarantee things will improve greatly after April 28.

“Give us a chance to recover from the circus of Haggerty, Baebler, Fribis, Gau and Hoffmann. The city is in the midst of an unprecedented boom, both residential and commercial, and the old guard is now the minority. They just don’t get it yet, but they soon will.”