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Lake Ozark City Leaders Battling Toward A Hire In City Administrator Standoff

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City Of Lake Ozark & Bagnell Dam Strip

LAKE OZARK, Mo. — Things got tense at the Lake Ozark Board of Aldermen meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12...

Not only because the board argued about the process of selecting a new candidate for City Administrator,

Not only because the proposed candidate, David Mitchem, stood at a lectern ready to take questions, while the board complained they knew nothing about him and Alderman Vernon Jaycox implied Mitchem had already lied to the board,

And not only because Assistant City Administrator Harrison Fry sat quietly listening to city officials discussing his merits over a job he had applied for,

But because this meeting felt like the culmination of a conflict that has been brewing for months.

When City Administrator Dave Van Dee announced, in April, that he would retire at the end of October, it’s no secret that the majority of the board of aldermen wanted Assistant City Administrator Harrison Fry to step into the role. They had spent $22,000 with headhunting firm Baker Tilley in 2020 to find Fry, with the plan that he would take the role after Van Dee stepped down. Fry was hired in July of 2020.

But Newberry insisted that while he very much liked Fry, the city should take resumes and simply hire the best person for the job. This confounded many of the board members; Newberry says Alderman Jaycox — who lost his reelection bid in April but was reappointed to his seat by Newberry shortly afterward, when Ward III Alderman Mark Maples stepped down — said he would never vote on any candidate Newberry put forward.

But, as City Attorney Chris Rohrer explained on Tuesday night, “It is by code the mayor’s obligation to appoint a city administrator and the board to approve by a majority that selection, if they see fit.”

So in the past couple of months, Newberry assembled a committee of well respected local business leaders to review resumes and conduct job interviews. The process yielded 16 resumes, and four personal interviews total, including assistant administrator Fry. The committee voted 8-1 in favor of Mitchem, with alderwoman Patricia Thompson casting the lone 'no' vote. The entire process cost the city less than $600. 

Tuesday night’s meeting revealed board angst even about that process. Two of the board members, Thompson and Bert Westbrook, had served on the committee, but Mayor Newberry and Alderman Klautzer sparred over whether Newberry had actually asked Klautzer to serve on the committee too. Alderman July Neels lamented that this was the first time she had seen Mitchem’s resume.

“This is the first I’ve heard about this,” she said, turning to the mayor. “How about transparency with every member of this board?”

Newberry replied, “We have been transparent — there’s not one thing that we haven’t told you about.” He also emphasized that he had not been a voting member of the candidate committee, and was simply bringing that committee’s recommendation to the board, as his own.

The spokesperson for the candidate committee, local attorney Tim Cisar, addressed the board on Tuesday night. “It was an interesting process,” Cisar began. “We met with four qualified people. Two of them make sense for the City of Lake Ozark.” He called Fry the “long-term answer for the City of Lake Ozark,” but explained that the opportunity to hire Mitchem was an interesting one. “David Mitchem has experience that we should not pass up for a year or two,” he said, explaining the committee thought Mitchem’s significant experience in city government would make him an ideal mentor for Fry, before the young assistant city administrator takes the reins.

Mitchem has been Deputy Director for Missouri’s Division of Economic Development, Executive Director for the Missouri Training and Employment Council, Town Manager of Pagosa Springs, Col., and Director of Colorado’s Division of Labor.

View Mitchem's LinkedIn resume:

He told the board, “We expanded tourism by 34% in a down market… that was a lot of fun and a lot of work… that experience will be brought to bear here in Lake Ozark, should you approve.”

After Mitchem spoke, he offered to answer questions. But the board seemed hesitant to ask any; several said they wanted to meet in executive session to discuss Mitchem further, and ask him questions there. This is when things grew especially tense.

When Jaycox asked if they could have a special executive session so they could question Mitchem, he added, “Or are we going to be left out in the rain again?”

He continued, “I think that you as the mayor owe it to this board so we can have an executive session to question the candidate that’s going to take this position… we have very little information… I’ve been sitting on these boards for 28 years… and I’ve never ran into this where we hired somebody for the city and the board was sitting here like we were 12-year-olds… [Mitchem] already made one comment earlier that I know was not true!”

Jaycox continued, his voice growing to nearly a shout, “We’re not going to sit here and take it! We want our private meeting so we can sit there and ask the questions we want to ask.”

Newberry later told the board he had no opposition to an executive session; the board then set the date for an executive session: Tuesday, Oct. 19 at 5 p.m.

During the meeting, Fry — who had applied for the City Administrator job after Van Dee announced his retirement — spoke candidly to the board about Mitchem and the vetting process. “I feel like I was given equal consideration,” he said. “This was a very valid and consistent process. It was very well-vetted.” Then he revealed a surprising twist: City Attorney Chris Rohrer had set up a lunch meeting for Fry and Mitchem once it became clear that Mitchem was the committee’s pick to recommend to the board.

“Two things became apparent [at that meeting],” Fry told the board. “He does have a resume that would be very difficult to pass up.” Then he added, “The other thing… is that he is quickly becoming one of my new friends, a colleague in a profession that I would work very well with.”

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