On the surface, we're sure those three little words, "What the h...? popped into many minds this week when learning that the Cherokee City Council hired new City Administrator/Manager Don Eikmeier at an annual salary of $95,000 plus benefits.
In a time of dire financial straits plaguing small, rural cities and the entire country at large, with budgets, employees, and equipment cut to the bare bones, and tax revenues tumbling with declining populations and development, to learn that a city of 5,500 can afford a City Administrator/Manager exceeding six figures naturally gives one pause to wonder.
However, working with the advantage of a perspective of reporting daily on local government activity that offers us a clearer "inside" view of the workings at City Hall, we have taken the time to digest the situation, have visited with city employees and department heads, and conclude that the Council has properly done its homework and selected the right man for the job.
Eikmeier, founder of Innovative Government Services in Elkhorn, Neb., and his company, were previously hired by the Cherokee City Council to aid a local fact-finding committee in the search for a new City Manager, and he has been serving as interim City Manager here since September 15.
Eikmeier has 15 years experience as a City Administrator, the last position being the City Administrator in Elkhorn, Neb. The city ceased to exist as the result of involuntary annexation by the city of Omaha.
Prior to working for the city of Elkhorn, Eikmeier worked for the city of La Vista, Neb., the city of Seward, Neb., the Southeast Nebraska Development District, and the North Central Regional Planning Commission (Beloit, Kans.).
From watching closely Eikmeier work with the City Council and city employees the past 90 days, we have been impressed with his vast knowledge, experience, diplomacy, and dedication to the task at hand. He is well-versed in all matters affecting municipalities and - most importantly - admits when he doesn't have an answer and immediately pledges to go find it.
Eikmeier has shown considerable expertise on a multitude of legal and technical issues that confront a city and is consistently willing and well-prepared to monitor and assist at the City Council meetings, and at City Hall. He says his office door is always open.
He is personable, kind, caring, and the employees and department heads have embraced their new "Boss" and, like the Council, speak highly of him.
Cherokee has been operating for more than 2 1/2 years without a defined "leader," after the past two City Administrators crashed and burned for a myriad of reasons.
By the way, kudos to the City department heads and their employees for their devotion to duty and hard work picking up the pieces and keeping the City humming during that time.
While Eikmeier served as our interim City Manager for the past three months, two things occurred - he came to know this community and many in the community came to know him.
And now, they're partners in a Mutual Admiration Society to lead Cherokee into a promising future.