MOUNT PLEASANT — Kurt Wahlen’s tenure as village administrator ended Monday the same way it began — polarizing.
As trustees continued to be split over his three-year tenure, the Village Board in a special meeting unanimously approved a separation agreement to formally part ways with Wahlen. The vote followed a 40-minute closed-session discussion.
“This board does want to thank Kurt for his time at this village and all the things he has done. And we do wish him the best in his future endeavors,” Village President Jerry Garski said after the vote.
Mount Pleasant Police Chief Tim Zarzecki will serve as interim administrator while the village seeks a replacement.
Feelings on Wahlen mixed
Wahlen leaves three months after two Village Board incumbents were ousted in the April 5 election, changing the dynamics on the board. A majority of the current board has generally opposed Wahlen.
Trustee Gary Feest said part of his issue with Wahlen was a lack of information given to trustees, citing a fire contract with Elmwood Park that he has argued should have gone before the Village Board as an example.
“When I as a board member am here at the village and I’m asked to make decisions and I ask for information, I have a certain hope for how things would go as a trustee. (That wasn’t) being met,” Feest said.
Ken Otwaska, another trustee who opposed Wahlen, said “we didn’t see eye to eye ... but I do wish him well.”
Two trustees, Sonny Havn and John Hewitt, said they voted to approve the separation agreement “reluctantly.” Hewitt left no doubt in an interview he still backed Wahlen.
“I know no other person in my life that has as much honesty, integrity, sincerity, and is as much of a gentleman as Kurt is,” Hewitt said. “He probably has more of all those things — sincerity and honesty and integrity — in his little finger than some people on the board have.”
Wahlen said afterward he had planned to resign Friday before the board informed him it would propose a separation agreement.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wahlen “agrees to voluntarily resign” and will be paid a three-month severance. Wahlen is paid an annual salary of $105,000, which puts the three-month lump sum payment at $26,250.
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Highway V a game-changer
Wahlen received a new two-year contract in 2014. But in 2015, a project to install water and sewer sparked loud opposition and marked a major turning point in his tenure, as two trustees and Village President Mark Gleason were unseated.
“You don’t see anybody in here (at Village Board meetings) from the general public from Mount Pleasant. All you see is people that are here with Highway V,” Wahlen said. “They’re involved and they run the village. That’s what it is.”
He added that “the village moves on. I’d like to see great things happen in the village.”
In a three-page letter to trustees, Wahlen noted several accomplishments, including better financial procedures and new development that put Mount Pleasant “at the forefront of Racine County development.”
He also said he addressed a host of problems he inherited when he took the job. They ranged from “troubling” financial practices, rescue squads breaking down, neglected roads and scattered personnel files, according to the letter.
“Change is not something Mount Pleasant readily accepts,” wrote Wahlen, the former Racine police chief. “In fact, the Village of Mount Pleasant has never moved away from being a town and town rule. This situation creates difficulties for the staff who try to carry out the day-to-day operation of the village, and, likely, was the reason that the village had difficulty finding an administrator prior to me.”
Zarzecki fills in again
The village will conduct a search “and find a good, quality candidate” to replace Wahlen, Garski said in an interview.
In the meantime, Zarzecki will again fill the role of interim administrator.
He did the same in 2013, the last time the position was vacant. Before Wahlen, the village went more than two years without a full-time administrator, a span that included one administrator resigning within 30 days of taking the job and trustees stepping in at times.
“You have to keep the village moving forward, so I’ll step up to the plate,” Zarzecki said. “I think Kurt’s done a nice job for the village. I’m very proud to have worked alongside him.”