The Lake Ozark Board of Aldermen will decide if David Mitchem will be the next city administrator at their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 26. Current City Administrator Dave Van Dee will retire at the end of this month.

Mitchem was recommended as Van Dee’s replacement by a committee hand-picked by newly elected Mayor Dennis Newberry. The hiring committee consisted of Dale Law, Conda Davidson and Tim Cisar, who all live outside the City of Lake Ozark on Horseshoe Bend; Connie Wardenburg, who lives in Eldon; Tim Roof, who lives in Sunrise Beach; Sherry Jackson and David Ridgely, who live in Lake Ozark; and Aldermen Pat Thompson and Bert Westbrook, also Lake Ozark residents.

Newberry invited Cisar to the Oct. 12 board of aldermen meeting to explain why the committee recommended Mitchem for the job. Mitchem was also invited to the meeting so he could answer any questions the board might have.

After Cisar finished sharing Mitchem’s qualifications, City Attorney Chris Rohrer said, “Tonight is the mayor’s official notice of his intent to bring Mr. Mitchem before you at the next board of aldermen meeting (on Oct. 26) ... as his candidate.

“As I explained before, by code, the mayor’s obligation is to appoint the city administrator and it’s up to the board to approve that selection, if they see so fit. Mr. Mitchem is here this evening to introduce himself to the board and give a short dissertation about his experience and make himself available to answer questions. The next board meeting is when he would come before the board for approval.”

Newberry said although he was not a voting member of the committee, he was present when all the resumes were read, and the final four candidates were interviewed.

“Mr. Mitchem offers a very unique scenario for the City of Lake Ozark. He has suggested he would not entertain the job for more than, at most, a two-year commitment. That gives us a window to go from where we are today and hopefully have Harrison (Fry, assistant city administrator) stepping into that role two years from now,” Newberry said.

The announcement did not sit well with aldermen, who complained that they had been left out of the search and interview process.

Alderman Judy Neels said she wasn’t notified that Mitchem was going to be at the meeting, so she wasn’t prepared to ask questions. Alderman Vernon Jaycox asked if the board was going to be able to talk to Mitchem before they had to vote on whether or not to hire him, “or are we going to continue to be left out in the rain? This is the board of aldermen. We never attended any meetings. We weren’t allowed to come to any meetings that were held to pick these candidates. As mayor, you owe it to this board to have an executive session where we can question the candidate who is going to take this position. We have very little information. I have been sitting on these boards for 28 years and I’ve never been left out of the hiring process like we were 12-year-olds.”

As the discussion grew more heated, Newberry said he did not play a part in the selection process – it was the committee members who chose Van Dee’s replacement, to which more than one alderman replied that as people elected to serve the citizens they were the ones who should be making hiring decisions.

Although the disagreement on hiring came to a head at the meeting, it had been a source of contention since July when Newberry first announced he would be interviewing candidates instead of moving Harrison Fry into the position as the board had unanimously agreed before Newberry was elected in April 2021.

In 2019, when Van Dee announced he would be retiring soon, aldermen voted to work with executive recruitment firm Baker Tilly to find his replacement. After considering more than 20 candidates and narrowing the search to two, the board voted to offer the job to Fry.

Fry was offered the assistant city ad-ministrator job and accepted it in mid- 2020. Van Dee agreed to stay with the city another year to train him. At more than one meeting, aldermen expressed their satisfaction with Fry’s job performance and repeated their desire for him to move up after Van Dee stepped down. It wasn’t until Newberry took office that the plan changed.

After the board and mayor hit a stalemate at the Oct. 12 meeting, City Attorney Rohrer suggested that aldermen sit down with both Mitchem and Fry in a closed meeting to discuss their qualifications. That meeting was held Oct. 19.

Alderman Thompson said the closed meeting was informative and gave aldermen a lot to consider before their upcoming vote on Tuesday, Oct. 26.

In the meantime, Fry suggested that he would be willing to stay as assistant city administrator and work under Mitchem if that was the board’s decision. Also at the Oct. 12 meeting at which Mitchem was invited by the mayor to speak, candidate Fry asked – and was given – the same consideration.

About Fry

Originally from Tennessee, Fry has a master’s degree in Public Administration and bachelor’s degree in Management from Murray State University in Murray, Ky. He had recently completed a city management internship with the city of Paducah, Ky., a community of 25,000. During his internship, Fry performed policy review, conducted research and budget analysis, and assisted the city’s leadership team with a variety of special projects and strategic planning initiatives.

About Mitchem

According to his resume, Mitchem has a Master of Public Administration degree and more than 25 years in the public sector. He served as town manager in Pagosa Springs, Colo., for five years and as city administrator in neighboring Eldon for one year under a consulting contract.

He stated that he is experienced at coalition building, strategic planning, economic development, deploying major projects and interpreting/implementing state and federal statutes.

His reported skill sets include:

Economic development -- deployed a community river-walk and trails system; built six kayaking river features; crafted an economic development/geothermal resource package for a new boutique hotel; designed and implemented portfolios of economic development incentives attracting a new Wal-Mart; and expanded tourism by 34 percent in a down market.

Project Management - financed/deployed a new $7 million wastewater pipeline; acquired funding and built a $608,000 pedestrian bridge and obtained grant funding for another $630,000 bridge. His team opened 521,000 square feet of new retail/office space and gained approval of Southwest Quadrant Master Plan by property owners.

Strategic Planning/Action: led Mis- souri’s Interagency Planning Council and authored Missouri Integrated Strategic Planning: Model and Guidelines.

This article originally appeared on Lake Sun Leader: Decision near on city administrator pick