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Dardenne Prairie may begin searching for city administrator candidates

Dardenne Prairie Mayor David Zucker and city aldermen may be exploring whether to hire a city administrator in the coming months.

But first, as Alderman Justin Ungerboeck [Ward 2] said, they want to “define the swim lanes properly” to ensure that the person hired is likely to swim rather than sink. The goal is to gather information to determine exactly what the city administrator would do before trying to hire someone.

The Board of Aldermen had agreed to include a possible allocation of $100,000 in the city’s 2019 for a city administrator. But Ungerboeck and his fellow officials agree that preparation work is needed before seeking applicants. Ungerbroeck said a small number of city officials and staff, ranging from the city clerk and attorney to Zucker and himself, could gather information and get back to the full board.

City administrators often handle the day-to-day business of a city. Mayors and aldermen often are part-time positions. However, the responsibilities of city administrators are set by boards of aldermen and city councils.

Dardenne Prairie fired its last full-time city administrator, Frank Schoneboom, in May 2014. At the time, Zucker who was then an alderman and Mayor Pam Fogarty said they weren’t happy with Schoneboom’s performance. He had been city administrator for two years.

Prior to his service in Dardenne Prairie, Schoneboom served as Eldon, Missouri’s city administrator from 2010 to 2012.

Alderman John Gotway [Ward 3] said the city administrator position in Dardenne Prairie doesn’t compare to St. Peters and O’Fallon, which are larger cities and have larger staffs.

The board in Dardenne Prairie defines where it wants the city to go. If the board and city administrator have different views then the administrator often is gone, Zucker said.

The city has eight full-time staff members and contractors such as its city engineer and attorneys, and is “still a very intimate small family,” Zucker said.

“It’s a very one-to-one kind of working relationship that can be screwed up if you don’t define the swim lanes properly and find the right skill set and personality [for the position], so someone won’t come in and screw it up,” he said.

Zucker has handled much of the city’s day-to-day business since he was first elected in April 2017. He said his plan is to talk to Foristell City Administrator and City Clerk Sandra Stokes about what the city should be seeking in the position.

“I’m a retired lawyer and I don’t need to be gainfully employed,” Zucker said. “When I first became mayor in May of 2015 [appointed by the board and elected first in 2017], I had a lot of stuff that needed daily attention here at city hall, so I was putting in more than 40 hours a week. Things don’t require all that many hours today but it still demands quite a bit of time.”

Zucker said he “can’t be mayor forever” but will be least until his next election in May 2021. He said he brought the subject of a city administrator to the board during budget discussions but that hiring one still depends on whether the city has a “sustainable business model” in which city officials can count on a hard-working successor in office.

He also suggested that having a city administrator might encourage others to run for mayor.

“The pool enlarges,” he said.

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