DeKalb City Council members should have figured out Anne Marie Gaura was no longer a good fit as city manager before they decided to sign her to a new contract.
The lack of foresight has proved expensive for taxpayers. By working less than three months after her initial four-year contract expired, Gaura picked up six months’ worth of severance pay, a total of more than $84,000. Add in vacation and sick time, and the payout for her to walk away this week came to more than $108,000.
It was clear support for Gaura was tepid at best when the council approved a new contract for her
Nov. 28. With Gaura’s first four-year contract as city manager set to expire Dec. 31, the council voted 5-3 to retain her with a contract that had an indefinite term.
Three aldermen – David Jacobson of the 1st Ward, Patrick Fagan of the 4th Ward and Mike Verbic of the 6th Ward, voted against the new deal. Mayor Jerry Smith voted with the majority to retain Gaura, but said he felt he had to vote with the majority either way.
“If you consider that a cop-out, so be it,” Smith said at the time.
Whatever it was, it wasn’t the right stance. The city Friday evening announced Gaura was out at City Hall. It said she had resigned “to pursue other opportunities” and that her last day would be Tuesday.
In DeKalb, as in Sycamore, the city manager is responsible for the day-to-day operation of local government. Department leaders such as the police chief, public works chief and fire chief report to them. The check on the city manager’s power is being accountable to the City Council.
It’s common for administrative leaders to change jobs, especially after voters opt to change political leadership, as happened in DeKalb last year. Gaura was hired by former Mayor John Rey, whom Smith defeated in the local election last spring.
Taking local government in a different direction often requires change not only at the top of the ticket, but at the top of the bureaucracy as well. That’s a reality more council members could have realized sooner.
Is there a specific reason why Gaura is out? No one is speaking on the record. The council approved her resignation as part of its consent agenda, showing they were determined not to say anything publicly about why the top administrator in the city had been toppled.
Gaura might have made some mistakes that city officials don’t want to talk about for some reason. Or she could have become fed up and decided to quit. Regardless, none of the key players in this changed dramatically in less than four months.
Gaura’s departure is evidence that officials made a bad call bringing her back in the first place.