OTTUMWA — The city council accepted Andy Morris’ resignation as city administrator during an unusual Friday session and appointed Mayor Tom Lazio to act as administrator until a successor is found.
The meeting capped a whirlwind week at City Hall that began with Lazio placing Morris on paid administrative leave following Tuesday evening’s meeting. Morris submitted a letter of resignation Thursday, “contingent upon a negotiated settlement with your outside legal counsel.”
City Attorney Joni Keith told the council that settlement “will be discussed later. And any package proposed will be brought to council and approved at a later date.” The council has hired Gayla Harrison to handle the negotiations.
Members approved both Morris’ resignation and Lazio’s appointment on 4-0 votes, with Councilwoman Holly Berg absent.
Keith said Lazio’s appointment as interim city administrator is within Iowa law.
“Our current mayor, Tom Lazio, has offered a suggestion that he serve as city administrator,” she said. “I checked Iowa law and, in my opinion, the mayor can serve in both capacities so long as he does not receive additional compensation.”
Keith added that an attorney with the Iowa League of Cities supported her interpretation of the state’s legal code.
Harrison apparently began work on behalf of the city prior to Friday’s meeting and submitted a bill to the city Thursday. That prompted Councilman Victor Streeby to ask whether she had been formally retained.
“Technically no. This vote would approve her hiring,” Keith said.
Both Keith and Lazio said Harrison has assisted the city on prior personnel issues. Lazio said the bill she gave was in the neighborhood of $1,200 to $1,300.
“I thought she hadn’t been hired,” Streeby said.
“She hadn’t been hired by the council but she has done legal work for the city over a number of years,” Lazio replied.
Councilman Matt Dalbey was appointed mayor pro tem and will remain in that capacity until Lazio resumes his duties as mayor. The search for a new administrator will begin with Lazio and Keith seeking proposals from professional search firms who could handle the initial search and vetting of candidates.
Use of an outside firm in the search is an approach the city has used for the last several administrators it has hired. Keith said the search is expected to take three to six months, with a selection most likely toward the latter end of that time frame.