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Mayor: Supportive but frustrated with city manager

Posted on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 6:00 am

By Ken Jackson
Staff Writer
Note to St. Cloud residents who recall the 2015 removal of the city’s prior city manager: City Hall is not in turmoil.
An email Mayor Nathan Blackwell sent to City Manager Joe Helfenberger surfaced this week. It noted frustration about Helfenberger’s claim that the direction to freeze the salaries of a few employees who he had approved for raises came from the City Council.
“Claiming you rescinded raises ‘based on the direction of City Council last night’ is dishonest and


absolutely incorrect,” Blackwell wrote in the email, which was sent the evening of June 12.
At the June 8 City Council meeting, Councilman Donny Shroyer made a motion to fire Helfenberger that got traction.
The city manager, the mayor and one of the employees originally given one of the raises met June 9.
During the meeting, Helfenberger said he was freezing all salaries until a city-wide study is completed, which Blackwell said frustrated him.
“Take a stand and stand for your decision. If you make a promise to a staff member, don’t then throw them under the bus,” the mayor said prior to Thursday’s City Council meeting. “He OK’d the raises, then froze salaries, and that didn’t come from the council. If he had asked for (council direction), he would have likely gotten it.”
On Thursday, Blackwell repeated he supports and wants to help the city manager.
“I would not do anything to humiliate a city official, that was meant to be confidential,” he said. “I promised Joe previously that I would not allow the same thing to happen to him that happened to Tom Hurt.”
Hurt, St. Cloud’s previous city manager, was removed from his post by a vote of the City Council on April 9, 2015, three months after the council approved a $37,000 annual raise for him and six months after giving him a favorable job review.
“I support Joe. I want to help him. “I want our city manager to do well and work with him to bring unity to the city. I’m just frustrated with the lack of trust.”
He made that clear in the email to Helfenberger: “If you hope to continue as our city manager, you need to closely evaluate the perception people have of you … as someone who regularly changes course because of your desire to please and be accepted by everyone … communicating to the council regularly before you make significant decisions will help you rebuild trust … I sincerely want to help you.”
Shroyer cited that lack of trust and communication among his motives when making his motion to fire Helfenberger June 8. The city manager said at the meeting he’d work on communicating better, and begin drawing up a weekly newsletter to the Council and other pertinent city staff highlighting things he was working on.
Blackwell said this week that communication had already improved out of the city manager’s office.