Iowa City dumps manager Lombardo, mum on why

BY CHRIS CLARK | APRIL 20, 2009 7:30 AM

Many are still confused about why the Iowa City City Council unanimously voted to fire City Manager Michael Lombardo on April 17.

All city officials contacted over the weekend refused to give details on the decision to let go of Lombardo, who was a key contributor to budget decisions and flood-recovery efforts.

“These kinds of things are just confidential,” Councilor Connie Champion said.

Other officials agreed.

“It’s strictly a personnel issue,” Councilor Mike O’Donnell said. “There’s really nothing I can say beyond that.”

At a special meeting around 4 p.m. April 17, the council immediately went into closed executive session with Lombardo to evaluate his performance. The council eventually reopened the meeting, where they voted 7-0 to fire him.

Lombardo declined to comment on Sunday evening at his home.

Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said she has no plans to directly address the public regarding the council’s decision. As of Sunday evening, the city’s website showed no news regarding Lombardo’s termination, which came just weeks before his one-year mark as city manager.

The City Council hired Lombardo last April after a four-month effort to replace former City Manager Steve Atkins, who stepped down from the position after 21 years.

Soon after Lombardo was hired, Councilor Amy Correia told The Daily Iowan he was a good fit for the position, citing his personable interactions with the council and community as reasons for the decision.

Despite the council’s expressed confidence following his hiring, Lombardo told the DI in 2008 he was somewhat surprised to receive the position — saying he was confident but realized anyone in “the final round” must be strong.

Lombardo began work as the city manager just weeks before last summer’s flood. In addition to finding ways to fund flood-mitigation projects, he also faced monumental budget cuts as a result of the recession.

Although his budget suggestions were not always in line with the council’s, officials would not say whether one specific disagreement triggered his firing.

Assistant City Manager Dale Helling, who served as interim city manager after Atkins stepped down, will take over as acting manager until a replacement is found. Helling said on Sunday that Bailey called him shortly after the April 17 special meeting to inform him of his new role.

Helling — who has been with the city since 1975 — worked in the same office as Lombardo but would not comment on Lombardo’s tenure.

Helling said he is confident in his ability to help the city keep moving in the right direction.

“The first thing I’ll do is meet with staff people and try to sort out the things I need to know immediately and the things that are more long-term,” Helling said.

City officials said they have yet to make official plans to hire a permanent manager.

“We won’t be in a hurry to do anything because we have someone who we trust,” Champion said. “We aren’t panicked about it.”

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