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Grand Island Mayor Jay Vavricek has asked for and accepted the resignation of Mary Lou Brown, the Grand Island city administrator. The announcement was made at the start of Tuesday's city council meeting to shocked council members.
"I'd like to announce a number of constructive steps to reassemble our community for the best long-term interests of our people," he said, announcing Brown would leave effective September 30, 2012.
Vavricek said he'd never come across anyone "so dedicated, hardworking, and diligent. Yet, responsibility of day-to-day operations of the city and its success is the responsibility of the city administrator and going forward we cannot go on as we have."
He called it a "shared decision" to seek a replacement, and pledged to work closely with the city council.
The announcement comes a week after Vavricek was hospitalized for chest pains, and in the wake of several weeks of controversy related to the fire department.
The fire union successfully sued the city to force the mayor to appoint a fire chief, something the judge agreed state law requires. An interim fire chief was named only days before a court-mandated deadline earlier this month.
Vavricek has been questioned about his handling of the situation. Brown too has been criticized. She previously served as city finance director. She served as interim city administrator before taking the job permanently. At the time, some city council members did not approve of Brown, arguing she lacked the experience the role required.
Brown was absent from the council meeting. One citizen who addressed the council pointed at her empty chair and said it was a positive first step. He said, "I think everyone up there knows, that empty seat is the one of the biggest steps forward that we've made."
Another resident appeared to be at a loss for words. He looked wide-eyed at the mayor and said, "You stepped up, I'm proud of you."
Vavricek also said, "I'm announcing the formation of a Mayor's Advisory Group-young and old-for broader input to hear monthly suggestions important for me to be aware of."
He said it was time to move on and do "what's right."
Mayor Jay Vavricek later stated after the City Council meeting, "Mrs. Brown's expertise and continued dedication in the near future will be a testament to her strength and many abilities as a leader and a foundation the City of Grand Island will build upon for a better future. She has made a difference in the lives of our people and made all those around her a better person to achieve new heights in greater taxpayer responsiveness. I will always be indebted to her selfless determination, dedication, and service."
Council president Peg Gilbert said she wishes Brown the best in whatever direction she decides to go, adding that Grand Island will at the same time move in a new direction. "It's been difficult over the last couple years and public support and support of staff," she said. "It's a new beginning, we want a clean slate, we want the very best for our community and our citizens."
Peg Gilbert knew about the situation, but the rest of council was not aware before the announcement. "I was aware, the mayor consulted with me this afternoon," said Gilbert. "I was asked to keep it in confidentiality." Council members said they were still processing the information after the meeting was over.
The council also unanimously passed an ordinance that gives the final say to themselves on mayoral appointments of chiefs. The proposed ordinance amended three sections of the Code that if approved in their amended form would require the mayoral appointment of a Police and/or Fire Chief be approved by the Council.
Carney wanted to have this rule applied to all department head positions including those in the library. City Attorney Robert Sivick informed the council that the move could be overthrown because it possibly would violate open meetings law.
The violation would be due to the language used in the announcement and the overarching amendment Carney was proposing. He said he would suggest it in two weeks at another council meeting, giving residents time to react.