Lake Ozark Mayor Dennis Newberry butted heads with city aldermen at a work session this week, with the meeting erupting into shouting. At issue: Newberry’s desire to take resumes for the position of City Administrator—the most powerful staff position in city government.
Current City Administrator Dave Van Dee announced his retirement not long after Newberry took office. Aldermen, and some city staff, assumed when Van Dee leaves his role in October (his contract with the city stipulates he receives six months pay after announcing his retirement), Assistant City Administrator and Economic Development Director Harrison Fry would automatically step into the role.
However, Newberry says he thinks the role should be filled with the most qualified individual, whether that’s Fry or another applicant. That’s why he directed staff to post both the City Administrator and Assistant City Administrator job descriptions on municipal help-wanted websites, while assuring Fry he had done a great job and would have a position with the city one way or the other. That directive, issued in May, has yet to be carried out.
Meanwhile, Aldermen have expressed univocal reticence to look for any other applicants for the City Administrator position. The reason seems to be rooted in the process of hiring Fry: in 2020 the city spent $22,000 with headhunting firm Baker Tilley to fill the Assistant City Administrator/Economic Development Director role. At the time, elected officials figured the person (ultimately Fry) who filled that role would automatically step into the City Administrator role whenever Van Dee left it. More than one board member has lamented to Newberry that the money spent to find Fry would be “for naught” if he were not promoted to City Administrator this fall.
“Our money didn’t go to waste! We got a wonderful guy: Harrison,” Newberry told LakeExpo, noting Fry may be the most qualified candidate for the role, but there may be another candidate whose resume would be even stronger that the city should at least consider.
At the July 14 Board of Aldermen meeting, one alderman proposed the city go into executive session the following week—a proposal the rest of the board agreed to, but which blindsided Newberry, who says he did not know the reason for the proposal. Executive sessions are typically reserved for discussion about personnel issues, which can not be held in public session.
However, Newberry says he checked with City Attorney Chris Rohr, who stated there was no need for the board to go into executive session simply to discuss Newberry’s desire to list the jobs online.
Newberry wrote a letter to the board arguing his directive to list both jobs online was simply due-diligence for the sake of the city and its citizens.
“It’s not popular with any of [the board],” he told LakeExpo.
So Newberry boycotted Wednesday’s executive session: when they entered it, he told them he’d be leaving.
“They were madder than hell,” he recalled.
After a discussion in which no action was taken, the aldermen adjourned the executive session and resumed their work session. “And [Alderman Dennis] Klautzer came out swinging,” Newberry said.
Alderman after aldermen read Newberry the riot act. He says every one of them was fixated on the fact that the city had spent $22,000 to get Fry, and none could answer his question about what would be harmful in obtaining additional candidates so the city could pick the best one for the City Administrator role. Klautzer demanded Newberry appoint Fry as the Interim City Administrator.
Alderman Vernon Jaycox began pounding the table and said, “You will never get your appointment voted in or anything else.” Vernon, after more choice words, stormed out of the meeting.
Note: Mayor Newberry appointed Jaycox to his seat. Jaycox had lost the last election, but the new alderman stepped down.
Newberry, before leaving that meeting to head to another of city importance, asked the board if they would simply direct Van Dee to post both jobs online. The mayor said they begrudgingly agreed.
The city has four months to collect resumes and make a hire for the position of City Administrator.