Fairfield City Council to discuss city manager search in executive session

Fairfield City Council will debate on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, the process to search for a new city manager. Former city manager Mark Wendling resigned on Dec. 11. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE
Fairfield City Council will debate on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, the process to search for a new city manager. Former city manager Mark Wendling resigned on Dec. 11. MICHAEL D. PITMAN/FILE

Acting City Manager Don Bennett is taking his role leading the city’s administration to start 2021 one day at a time.

Bennett, who for now exchanged his fire chief title for he city manager’s office, was appointed to the post after Mark Wendling unexpectedly resigned on Dec. 11. He said there’s been a learning curve switching focus from one of the city’s departments to all of them, and his goal is to make sure the city keeps running.

“I have one goal and that is to maintain continuity of operations,” said Bennett, “and to make sure there is a solid foundation for whoever is hired as city manager that they can build upon.”

ExploreSeparation agreement adds details to Fairfield city manager’s resignation
Don Bennett is the city of Fairfield's acting city manager until a permanent replacement is found. Former city manager Mark Wendling resigned on Dec. 11. FILE
Don Bennett is the city of Fairfield's acting city manager until a permanent replacement is found. Former city manager Mark Wendling resigned on Dec. 11. FILE

His only role is to be an advocate for the department heads, and liaison to City Council, and make sure projects slated for the first part of 2021 stay on path. So long as he has the support of the senior staff, he’s on track to be successful during the city’s period of transition.

Bennett anticipates being in the acting position for four to six months as City Council begins its consideration for its next city manager. They’ll discuss the matter in an executive session meeting today, and that’s the only news that’s been publicly announced. Bennett said he knows members of the council have had dialogue among themselves, but none of those specifics have been released to him.

“One of their commitments is to initiate that process early in January,” Bennett said.

Beginning Feb. 1, Bennett will be without an assistant city manager to help during the transition. Assistant City Manager Dan Wendt will resign his job at the end of the month to become Vandalia’s new city manager. But he’s received support from city staff during the transition period.

“What I’ve tried to do is become more knowledgeable about pending and time-sensitive projects that the various departments have planned,” Bennett said. “I think we’ll be able to handoff things in great, solid shape for whoever is hired in this position, whenever that occurs.”

Fairfield Mayor Steve Miller said he anticipates City Council will decide to have a national search conducted for the city’s next city manager. Wendling had been the city manager since May 2015, and when he left he was earning $163,991 annually.

Details of Wendling’s departure are not being discussed per a legally binding separation agreement, but according to that agreement he was hand-delivered it on Dec. 9 and had until Dec. 31 to sign it. He signed on Dec. 11. Wendling told the Journal-News last month his departure has “been brewing for a while.”

City Council deferred comments to Miller, who would comment on specifics but commented Wendling as having “done a good job” and being a “class act.”

The mayor called the Fairfield “an attractive place to be” and the city manager job posting will “probably attract the cream of the crop.”

“It’s a great community and I think everything will work out,” he said.

In Other News