Former coworkers split on Lombardo firing

BY ANNA LOTHSON | APRIL 22, 2009 7:26 AM

With rumors swirling after former City Manager Michael Lombardo’s termination last week, his former coworkers are taking conflicting positions.

In Allegan County, Mich. — where Lombardo formerly worked as county administrator for roughly four years — some say they’re shocked to hear the news.

Bill Sikkel, then-vice-chairman of Allegan County, spoke positively about Lombardo.

“My style of leadership is to delegate, pick the right people, and get to work,” said Sikkel, a retired Army colonel, noting Lombardo understood that philosophy and worked well with him.

Sikkel also said the word “fired” surprised him — adding Lombardo was a “very nice man” to work with, a sentiment he said could be iterated by most of his staff.

“I was very unhappy when he left,” he said. “We were blessed to have him.”

But Steve McNeal, a commissioner in Allegan County, feels just the opposite.

“I certainly wouldn’t hire him again,” McNeal said, noting there were many reasons he wouldn’t work with Lombardo again, though he couldn’t give specifics since “personnel matters get sticky.”

A difficult working relationship between McNeal and Lombardo could have been one of the reasons Lombardo chose to resign from his Allegan County position, which he did in May 2006, Sikkel said.

Sikkel — who has also disagreed with McNeal in the past — suspected Lombardo had problems with McNeal’s managing tactics.

Regardless, some of Lombardo’s former coworkers remain split on their positions.

Lombardo declined comment on Tuesday evening at his home.

Working with Johnson County officials, Board of Supervisors Chairman Terrence Neuzil said he saw “both strengths and weaknesses” with Lombardo.

Neuzil, who said he was surprised when he heard about Lombardo’s termination, noted he will respect the council’s decision but said Iowa City officials are going to face difficulties dealing with the sudden move.

“They’re going to have to take a step back and go to the drawing board,” he said.

During a trip to Washington, D.C., after last summer’s flood, Neuzil saw Lombardo efficiently secure funding for the community — what Neuzil called Lombardo’s biggest strength.

“He was successful in bringing a significant amount of dollars to the city,” Neuzil said.

But, Neuzil said, he thinks the “breakdown of communication and cooperation” between Lombardo and the county occurred during discussion about distributing stimulus funding.

Specifically, Neuzil said, he thought Lombardo “limited the playing field” when it came to financing transportation in Johnson County while working with the county government.

Lombardo noted his experience as a county manager in Michigan — where he “led them through a series of difficult years” — during a April 2008 meeting with candidates for the Iowa City’s city manager position, shortly before he was hired. Before that, Lombardo worked as the assistant city manager and chief financial officer in Augusta, Maine.

Looking forward, Neuzil said he thinks acting City Manager Dale Helling will lead the city appropriately.

Despite the stress Neuzil predicts the council and city departments will face, Coralville Assistant City Manager Ellen Habel said she hopes “Michael and the city can both move forward.”

City employees deferred comment to the city attorney on Tuesday.

Mayor Regenia Bailey told The Daily Iowan on Sunday no further discussion with the public will be had regarding the decision.

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