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Sheiffer will retire after 21 years at helm

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
January 29, 2008
— The city might do a national search to find a replacement for City Manager Steve Sheiffer, Council President George Brunner said after Sheiffer announced his Sept. 2 retirement Monday night.

Brunner said he will meet with the human resources director and with Sheiffer in the next few days or so to see what replacement search options should be presented to the council.


He said the search would likely include the region, if not the nation.


Brunner said that while he was not surprised by the retirement announcement—it has been rumored that Sheiffer would retire this year—he was “a little bit surprised by the timing.”


He said he would have guessed it would be more toward the end of the year rather than in the middle of 2009 budget deliberations.


“This puts us on a relatively short timeline to decide which direction we’re going as far as a search for a replacement,” Brunner said.


A search firm probably will be considered to help the council, he said.


Brunner said he personally would look for someone who shares Sheiffer’s strong financial and economic development background.


Sheiffer said he is retiring to enjoy his family, friends and the community.


He has been manager here since May 4, 1987, when he was hired from Concord, Mass., after a national search.


Sheiffer would not answer any questions after his announcement other than to say he is planning on staying in Janesville.


In his statement, Sheiffer praised Janesville for its environment, recreation, culture, medical services and commercial activity. He also praised his family.


“With a sense of deep satisfaction and pleasure, now is the time for me to fully enjoy my family, friends and community,” he said.


Sheiffer said his last day would be Sept. 2. But he said his final date of employment would be in the fall based on vacation leave.


“I wish to thank the community and all the city council members and employees I have worked with over the last 20 plus years,” Sheiffer said. “My service as city manager has been a great pleasure and privilege.”


When Sheiffer was hired, Janesville was in an economic downturn. The city had lost 1,250 jobs in the mid-1980s when General Motors opened a plant in Fort Wayne, Ind., and moved a truck production line there.


Sheiffer is credited with bringing new economic life to Janesville, including aggressive and sometimes creative uses of tax incremental finance districts.


He has been praised in the past for his financial skills and has continued to steer the city through tough financial times. Because of his foresight, residents have barely noticed cuts in services as state shared revenues dropped. The city’s tax rate is one of the lowest among peer cities even while he has maintained quality services, council members have said.


But in the last five years or so, Sheiffer has been a lightning rod for a segment of the community unhappy with City Hall.


Some people say he can be abrasive and condescending and have said Sheiffer actually runs the city rather than the council.


Others say Sheiffer has just been here longer than the average tenure for a city manager and was bound to make some people unhappy.


People unhappy with a 2002 assessment got enough residents to sign a petition to force the state to investigate. The state gave the city mostly high marks, saying it could improve its public relations. The city has not had an assessment since 2002, and soon could be in danger of being in non-compliance with the state.


From the 2002 assessment upheaval came a drive to change the council-manager form of government to a mayor-council system.


Janesville residents overwhelmingly voted to keep the current form.


Councils have consistently given Sheiffer high marks over the years.


Some accomplishments under his Sheiffer’s tenure include:


-- Reuther Way, the limited-access road to General Motors


-- The Highway 11 bypass


-- The Youth Sports Complex


-- The new police station


-- A remodeled City Hall


-- A push to buy properties along the Rock River for either redevelopment or open space


-- A remodeled public library


-- A remodeled senior center


-- The YMCA and the Boys & Girls Club


-- The bike trail


OTHER BUSINESS

In other business, the Janesville City Council on Monday:


-- Approved an ordinance that bans skateboarders from certain areas of the downtown. Business owners had complained of damage to their structures.


All council members voted in favor of the ordinance except Tim Wellnitz and Paul Williams.


Craig DeGarmo was absent.


Wellnitz said he empathized with the property owners but said the ordinance “goes too far to restrict individual freedoms on public sidewalks where people should be able to skateboard.” And Williams said the ordinance punishes the good kids because of the actions of a few.


-- Delayed a voted on an ordinance that would allow neighborhood electric vehicles to operate on city streets. The council was scheduled to vote on the ordinance on Monday but the Department of Transportation said the ordinance wasn’t specific enough as to which highways were off limits.


NEVs are not allowed on roadways with speed limits more than 35 mph.


A new ordinance has been drafted, and a public hearing is planned for the Monday, Feb. 11, council meeting.



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