Letter from the Editor

Monday, August 15, 2005

John Call owed more than severance

I didn't see it coming, and I still don't understand exactly why it has happened.

All that is clear is that John Call, our city administrator for five years, has been asked to tender his resignation, and was immediately placed on paid leave out of city hall until details of his departure can be worked out.

Why? If you can find someone who will give a straight answer to that question, congratulations.

I've been told what isn't the reason repeatedly. It's not misconduct of any sort, not any kind of conflict. It is not the lawsuit the city faces, not any particular incident or issue. Not anything at all Call has done wrong or failed to do correctly. Well, that clears it up, doesn't it?

So why has our city's highest ranking employee been asked to leave? The mayor, in the uncomfortable role of spokesperson on this, only says that confidentiality policies prevent any more of an explanation, and vaguely that the city at this time needs someone who is aggressive and proactive as the next in that administrative position. Take that for what you will. Call himself is also reluctant to go on the record.

It all seems very sudden. The mayor said that there is no plan to elevate someone in particular from within, although that is a eventual possibility.

City leaders said at the time of the requested resignation that they didn't have plans in place on how to replace Call, and that it would be a difficult task to bring someone on board right in the midst of the huge AWAYSIS development effort. It was an abrupt enough decision this week that the mayor had to cancel his own personal work appointments in order to perform damage control at the city hall.

Employee records are confidential, at least they are from the employer's viewpoint. Call has been reviewed regularly, the last time in January, with a pay raise I believe. I can only assume that his performance was largely considered satisfactory through the past five years. What changed?

I have no reason to question the city's actions, and that is not my intent. Perhaps it just came to the point where it was time to part ways. Perhaps philosophy, working style or simply the evolution of the city's direction dictates some form of change, for reasons that while not specific, may be warranted. It's just that when the public isn't well informed on such a major decision, people are left to wonder. And unfortunately, that's what is happening in Storm Lake this week.

I hope the city will find the person they need. With the changes underway, we will seek a masterful promoter, an exceptional communicator who is fully open with information, a straight-shooter, a can-do, creative team-oriented leader who will grow and adapt as Storm Lake surely will grown and adapt. Not much to ask for, is it? Just look for the red "S" on the chest.

At the same time, I am personally sad to see John Call leave. He has been a likeable, approachable, professional, polite and all around decent guy who has been a pleasure to know and work with.

In the summation of his city career here, consider this:

Storm Lake today is healthier and more united than in was before he arrived.

We now have exciting hotel and waterpark projects going on, when the city for years had seen limited development and no progress in replacing a pool. Dredging has become a local mission, with exceptional results. Water system problems have been artfully averted. We have added trail, lights and other improvements. Infrastructure in enviable shape. The city government and its staff people have taken on many responsibilities and performed them well. Not that John Call or any one person or group can be credited for all of the good things - but it is fair to say that he will leave things in better shape than he found them.

If some are critical of the way he delegated authority, it can be noted that because he has, we are in a strong position to continue forward in a positive way with all that we work to achieve.

I would be remiss too if I failed to bow with respect to the exceptional Patti Moore, who will probably pick up a load for an extended period for the third time around as we determine the future of the administrator position. She has been a consistent, knowledgeable and upbeat force for the city that goes far beyond the job description of "city clerk" on the door. The same could be said of public safety leaders Mark Prosser and Mike Jones, infrastructure leader Pat Kelly, code officer Scott Olesen and all down the line, from the friendly voices at the city hall front desk to the people who climb out of bed at night to answer emergencies whenever called upon.

Justin Yarosevich and Mike Wilson in particular have brought new talents and visions. Their challenges have not been easy, and their dedication inspires awe.

Our experienced city council has, it seems to me, struck a good mix of personal integrity and cooperation, and has paved the way for a lot of what the town has achieved.

We have a lot at city hall to be thankful for.

And while we are at it, we should send some of that thanks John Call's way.

For five years he has seemed a kind, soft spoken, steady hub at the center of our spinning spokes of ambition. Even in this difficult time, he reacts as a professional, and, I am told, offers to help if any questions arise on the projects he was working on. Although I cannot tell you for sure why he is leaving, I can say with certainty that he will be missed.

Thanks for everything, John.