A month ago, Steve Zachmann was a member of the City Council.
Now, the Baker resident is adjusting to his new role – the mayor of the City of Baker.
The move was prompted when former mayor JoDee Pratt resigned and fellow city council member Pat Ehret took over as the acting mayor for a brief time.
Zachmann is still getting adjusted to the new position. “Always making progress,” he said Monday.
There haven’t been too many surprises, Zachmann explained, something he attributes to both the former mayor and the wealth of experience at city hall among the staff.
“I was very fortunate in being very familiar with the workings of the city over all the years, having served on planning boards for two separate terms,” he said. The first term was in the 1980s and his last term was in the last decade. “I have always had a good working relationship with the planners, the county commissioners and with the city council, so I was familiar with what is going on.
“I also had the good fortune, after I was on the city council two years ago, of having a pretty good open door policy with the mayor,” he said. “If I had questions, we would get together and visit on things. The previous mayor has been pretty transparent on everything that is going on and keeping me informed.”
He does admit to one surprise. “The (surprise) is the amount of time it takes to get rolling here simply because I need to get an idea where everybody is at.”
Also on his to do list is helping to find a replacement on the city council for his vacancy and a new public works director, in addition to other administrative duties. At the same time, he admits that needs to devote some time to his construction business. “I do some of that after hours to help some people out,” he explained.
Public Works vacancy
Looking for a new public works director moved a step forward Wednesday when the council was scheduled to set up the review of the applications which have been submitted for the position, the new mayor explained.
After that, the council would move forward with plans to do the interviews, he said. “We will probably do them (interviews) in person. The conference room in the basement of the courthouse has got plenty of room so we can maintain social distancing between the committee members and the interviewee.
“So far, the applicants are all local. We have had some phone calls from people who are semi-local or regional, but there still are a couple of days yet to take applications,” he said, noting the window will probably be closing before Friday.
“We’d like to have a selection made in the next two weeks,” he added, and if possible, to get the recommendations of the committee by the Sept. 16 city council meeting. “But, we’ll not rush the process just to get it done.”
The public works director, because of the size of the department, will have to be hands-on, the mayor said. “It isn’t all managerial type supervision. By the same token, it isn’t all work out on the streets and infrastructure repairs,” Zachmann said. “It is a pretty good blend of both.”
Being a small community, the city looks at the people who are available, the mayor said. “We are really happy with the six applications we have at this point.”
The city is in a transition of sorts, he explained. “We are somewhat transitioning from just fixing potholes … and some of the smaller construction of streets,” he said.
The council is looking to find a replacement for Zachmann. “Anyone interested in that ward, Ward 1 – the alleyway between First and Second Streets West and everything east of there – any resident of that area sends in a letter of interest to the city. Preferably (they’re) listing some of their experiences and their insights. That letter should be in by Sept. 8,” the mayor said.
The city council will later have a discussion and make an appointment. “We are a year and a half away from the next election (for the term of office), so there is a need to appoint. We do have the option of having a city-wide election for that, but the cost and the benefit of that is not great enough, so we are doing the appointment process,” the new mayor said.
The time limit could be extended if no letters have been received by the Sept. 8 deadline, the mayor said. “We can’t leave that position open.”
Zachmann added that, pending a decision by the city attorney, a person could be recruited and appointed to fill the remainder of the term if there are no letters of interest submitted.
However, the mayor said he knows several people who have expressed an interest, but not submitted an official letter yet.
The biggest transition has been budgeting time for the mayor’s position as well as his ‘other’ job, the mayor said.
“It is just a matter of honoring my obligations I have to my customers and still honor the obligation to serve the city. I come in early in the mornings, before 8 o’clock, and study up on historical things.... the streets issues, the water mains placements. I have been in on all those, so I am up to speed on those, so those are not a problem. It is just that the things that have happened recently that I am not aware of... to get a full view of what has been happening.”
There is an advantage to being a small town, the mayor said. “There is a benefit to being involved with each other,” he said, noting that people with the county and with the city know their people and communities.
“I’ve known each of the commissioners for quite some time,” Zachmann said. “I have had some good discussions over the years with them and I have a lot of respect for the work that they do. It is just a matter of approaching it on a professional standpoint and allowing them to do their job, their governance … and the city does the same.
“It is a matter of collaborating while respecting each others’ duties,” he said.
Zachmann also gave credit to the city staff for helping him to transition into his new office.
“This transition has been very easy for me because of the support of the city clerk and the deputy clerk – Kevin Dukart and Brenda Dietz. Kevin has been here for 26 years and Brenda has been here for 37 (years).
“They have just been instrumental. It is just amazing to be able to sit in this chair and I have all this information and all the history without having to dig through the files,” he said.