In October 2015, about six months after Mark Kupsky was elected Fairview Heights mayor, the city agreed to part ways with its then-city administrator, Jim Snider.
At the time, Kupsky said he looked to possibly restructure the position and search for a replacement within the next three to four weeks for a home-rule community.
However, more than three years later, there is no formal replacement for Snider, even though the city’s online city ordinances say the mayor “shall” appoint a city administrator with the consent of the council.
Kupsky, who is nearing the end of his first term, is set to get another term as mayor. He is unopposed in his re-election bid on April’s ballot.
Fairview Heights is a strong council-weak mayor form of government, but Alderman Ryan Vickers said it has become a defacto strong-mayor form without a formal change.
“On paper, you’re supposed to appoint someone to that position,” Vickers said. “That’s your form of government.”
Kupsky disagreed with the assessment.
“I don’t look it that way. I work closely with the council,” Kupsky said. “Everything we do, the council has to approve. I believe in working together.”
He added previous mayors have been active in the role and have not had city administrators.
Kupsky said having a city administrator cost $200,000 a year in salary and benefits. Instead, a human resources department was put in place to help with compliance issues, among other things. The cost of which is about $100,000.
Last year, the city saw a $60,000 reduction in insurance costs.
“That position nearly paid for itself,” Kupsky said.
“That has proven to be extremely beneficial to the city,” he added.
Kupsky said saving money by not having an administrator. He said it leaves additional funding for other projects such as sidewalk work or street improvements, or help with the additional costs of running a recreation center, which is under construction.
“I felt it was prudent we look at our financials, and as long as we’re operating efficiently and we have the right people in place, we’re delivering all of the services and then some to our residents, it was just not a cost we needed to add back into the budget at this time,” Kupsky said. “And I still believe that today.”
Vickers said Kupsky is not doing a bad job, but added, if someone was in the city administrator position, council members would have someone to go to with issues who isn’t directly worried about an election.
“If there is a city administrator, I don’t have to worry about the politics of working with that person,” Vickers said.
Closing the 'loophole'
Kupsky, who is a part-time mayor and works full-time for a telecom company, has been an alderman, the city clerk and treasurer during his tenure as an elected official.
Vickers said if the city administrator position won’t be filled, the city should explore formally changing its form of government to a strong-mayor.
“Mark is doing a fine job, but it’s the loophole I would like to close,” Vickers said.
He added if Kupsky wasn’t mayor, there may be a push from other alderman to make sure there was a city administrator in place.
And he said his concerns are about good government.
“This is about cleaning up stuff we should be doing anyway,” Vickers said.
Alderwoman Pat Baeske, who has been on the city council since 1999, said a name would have to be put forward by the mayor for a city administrator.
However, not having a city administrator helps save money, and Kupsky has been able to add more support staff in the city, Baeske said.
She said she has suggested it in case anything happens to Kupsky as having professional management would help make sure the city would continue to run smoothly, adding she is happy with the way the city is ran now under Kupsky.
“The problem would be if Mark Kupsky (got) hit by a bus,” Baeske said.
Kupsky said that issue could happen with any type of organization, public or private.
“That’s an issue for anybody or whether you’re in municipal government or if you’re in the private sector. In essence, I’m the CEO of the city,” Kupsky said. “If I was the CEO of a private company and something happened to me, you hope there’s enough people in place in the organization that the organization survive and the city would, too.”
Kupsky said whether the city has a top administrator, he is ultimately responsible.
“At the end of the day, whether you have an administrator or not, when a resident has an issue, and they want to speak to the mayor, that’s where the buck stops, in any city, and that’s who they want to see,” Kupsky said. “I don’t believe in hiding behind anyone else when we have various issues, and I like to be out in front of it. That’s probably not the case with every mayor, and that’s probably not the case with future mayors; certainly I’m open minded to looking at it.”
Kupsky said he also stays in communication with department directors, even though he is a part-time mayor who has a full-time job.
“If citizens call, I’m probably one of the most responsive mayors in getting back to people quickly. I pride myself in being responsive. And I take a role in the day-to-day operations,” Kupsky said. “I’m not a mayor who sits back until, ‘Oh, wait, there’s an issue — we better address it.' We try to look forward.”
Kupsky added he is open to having a city administrator in the future if he believes the city needs one.
“If I see that there’s a need to do that, if I see … the needs of the city are not being met, or that I can’t meet them at them at that level, then I certainly will work with the council, looking at a candidate and bringing a name forward,” Kupsky said.
Joseph Bustos is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, where this article was originally published.
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