Resignation complicates transition at Town Hall
by nathan oster
A special meeting on “personnel” Monday ended with the town in the market not only for a new administrator but also a police officer and an animal control officer — and with incumbent Mayor Frank Houk maintaining he will leave office at the end of this month, as planned.
During the hour-long session, the council accepted the resignation of Administrator/Finance Director Joe Fischer, who had given his two weeks’ notice at the end of November.
Then, with every member of the police department in attendance as a show of support, Chief Bill Brenner announced that officer Tom Hueckstaedt and his wife Leesa, who was recently hired to be the town’s animal control officer, had resigned. They are moving to St. George, Utah, to be closer to Leesa’s family.
Fischer’s resignation shocked the council.
On the job for just five months, he announced last week that he had accepted a job with his former employer, WESTConsin Credit Union. He plans to serve the town through approximately Dec. 14. His first day back at WESTConsin will be Dec. 17.
Fischer said in an interview Monday — and again during the special meeting — that the decision to leave was a difficult one, but that in the end, it came down to wanting to be closer to his family in Wisconsin.
Fischer said he never lost contact with his former employer — and that he decided over Thanksgiving, while re-connecting with his family in Wisconsin, that his heart is in the Badger State.
“It’s not that I was seeking outside employment, but my former employer reached out, offered me an opportunity. I was back there for the holidays, and thinking about family, the future and all that.
“It’s nothing against the town of Greybull. It’s been a real pleasure, but you have to have that work-life balance, and I’ve been missing my family back in Wisconsin.”
Fischer denied that his resignation had anything to do with the impending changes on the town council, where Mayor Frank Houk and Councilors Jan Johnson and Kay Fleek are all in line to depart at the end of December.
“Every couple of years, you get change … that’s just part of the job,” said Fischer. “That’s what my job here is all about, being the person to help facilitate that job.”
In the interview, Fischer spoke highly of his colleagues on the town staff, calling it “a great workplace” and saying “there are a lot of good things going on here. The town is moving in the right direction.”
At Monday’s meeting, Houk stated that he had asked Fischer if any factors other than family influenced his decision — and that he’d been told that there was some angst about the job and the demands placed on the administrator.
“It probably was a job and a half (the way it was created),” said Houk.
Turning to Fischer at one point in the meeting, Fleek said, “I’ve been amazed at what you took on, what you did. You struck me as quite a worker, a whiz kid. But at the same time, I’m very disappointed. I understand the family situation, but it’s really poor timing. It’s left us in quite a predicament.”
Fischer said he understood. “Obviously, my fiancée (Jacinda Campbell), was out here, and it was a tough decision. It was never our intent for me to pack up, move everything and travel 1,000 miles … then five months later, do it all again and return 1,000 miles.”
Most of Monday’s discussion centered on the next step. With Fischer leaving in mid December and Houk planning to go at the end of the month, there will be a leadership void for a short time.
In the coming days, Fischer, Houk and Town Clerk Kathy Smith plan to go over the job description for the administrator/finance director position. In terms of timing, the council opted to wait until after Jan. 1, 2013, to begin the process of filling the position. That was the recommendation of Smith, who said she would not have the time to devote to it in December due to her end-of-the-calendar-year responsibilities.
“We need to go back to the job description,” Smith said. “Joe has indicated that it’s 1 ½ jobs, and we knew it was a big job. So we need to see if we can slide some of that workload in my direction. I thought we had done a good job of splitting those duties, but obviously, it’s a little much.
“Right now, though, I don’t even want to think about training (Fischer’s replacement) until after the first of the year.”
Houk said the council received a number of quality applicants for the administrator position when it was advertised, and the council members agreed that they would reach out to some of those who didn’t the job to see if they’re still interested.
Councilor Bob Graham said he agreed that the search produced “great candidates” and that the gap between the top four was razor thin.
The council will pick up the discussion in January.
Meanwhile, after a long period of stability, the GPD is about to embark on its second officer recruitment process in the last three months. Just last week, Phillip “Sean” Alquist was introduced as the department’s newest member, replacing Donna Johnson.
News of the Hueckstaedts departure came as surprise.
Their last day on the job will be Dec. 18.
Brenner said he had someone in mind who is “certified” to replace Tom Hueckstaedt on the five-member force. Alquist is not a certified officer as yet and will need to attend the Wyoming Police Academy in the spring.
Councilor Bob Graham said, “It’s tough to lose experienced people, especially people you have put a lot of time into, and people who have put a lot of time and effort into the community. But I understand your position … and thank you for your service.”
Hueckstaedt ended the conversation by praising the department, saying, “In my 14 years doing this job, I’ve never been involved in a more professional law enforcement agency than this one. You guys are very lucky to have what you have (in the Greybull Police Department).”
The council spent the final half of its meeting in executive session, and when it emerged, it took no formal action. However, when pressed on whether the developments involving Fischer had altered his plan to leave the council at the end of the year, Houk said no.
The plan is still to seek nominations for the office of mayor at the Dec. 10 meeting — and for the council to fill the position that night, he said. If that happens, Houk will depart at the end of December, and the new mayor will be sworn in, along with Councilors-elect Myles Foley and Clay Collingwood, on Jan. 2, 2013.