Gary Fahan
Gary Fahan
April 29, 2014

Lake City

City leaders fired their new city administrator Monday - a week after they hired him - amid backlash from residents who claimed the man was not properly vetted.

"I think you people made a mockery of this town the way this transpired," resident Bill Hungate said at that night's City Council meeting. "I don't see how it got this far."

The town has for months sought a replacement for former City Administrator Kim Kelly, who left the post in late February for another job. Since then, the council has rejected one job applicant recommended by a council-appointed committee, hired another who quit shortly after he started and, last week, hired two-year Councilman Matt Ringgenberg.

City administrators play an important role in city government. They typically are the top boss among city employees, prepare annual budgets, compile and distribute city council meeting agendas and minutes, and are a liaison between the city and its existing and potential residents and businesses, among other duties.

Ringgenberg, 35, resigned as a councilman after he was hired as city administrator because Iowa law forbids one person from holding both positions. He had not previously worked as a city administrator, nor does he have any formal education for the job.

Mayor Gary Fahan said he and council members were forced to "betray our judgment" Monday when they fired Ringgenberg to spare the town from infighting that had bubbled in the past week.

"We have nothing to substantiate any claim against him," Fahan said of residents' complaints about Ringgenberg.

Residents who vocally condemned the council in the meeting later declined to speak further to the Daily Times Herald, nor did they reveal the specific gripes about Ringgenberg. Some claimed he is difficult to work with.

Ringgenberg declined to talk at-length with the Times Herald this morning about the situation but said, "It's just a decision that the council made, and we have to move forward."

It's rare for a current city councilman to be hired as city administrator, but small, rural towns often struggle to find and retain good administrators, said Alan Kemp, the executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, which advocates for and gives advice to municipal leaders.

"If you had someone in the city that was already interested and has ties to the community, sometimes that's not a bad decision," Kemp said. "But it's one of those things you want to give complete consideration to."

Ringgenberg had no previous experience as a city administrator, his resume shows. He has been a paramedic for more than a decade and most recently was director of emergency services for Stewart Memorial Community Hospital.

Council members Gary Bellinghausen, Branden Blair and Doug Filmer voted last week to hire Ringgenberg at an annual salary of $47,000, which is comparable to what former administrator Kelly earned. Ringgenberg abstained from the vote, as did Councilwoman Tamela Green, who is related to him. The vote was the same on Monday to fire Ringgenberg.

"With this much civil unrest, we're listening to the public," Filmer said.

The council decided to advertise the job opening for another 15 days and formed a five-person committee to winnow the applicant pool. Mayor Fahan said they have at least 20 applications to review.