City of Sedalia Officials Explain Reasons for Department Reorganizations
The City of Sedalia announced an organizational change last week, with half of the departments reporting to City Administrator Kelvin Shaw, and the other half reporting to his new assistant City Administrator Matt Wirt.
It was announced that Wirt, who has served as Police Chief since 2018, will assume his new title of Assistant City Administrator in an effort to solve management challenges within the City.
Now serving as Interim Chief of Police is Senior Commander David Woolery. A nationwide search will be conducted by the Police Personnel Board to find a permanent replacement for Wirt.
In addition, a full-time civil engineer will be hired by the City to be on staff, instead of hiring an outside engineer as needed.
“So we brought in Interim Public Works Director Chris Davies, so part of his recommendations was for us to go ahead and hire a full-time engineer. Part of that work was evaluating all the people who are under the the Public Works Director and seeing what they were capable of. He found that those people were capable of being elevated to superintendent-level positions,” Mayor Andrew Dawson told KSIS on Wednesday morning.
Dawson noted that City Administrator Shaw has a timeline for his retirement. “With him leaving and nobody coming in behind him, you have a huge loss of institutional knowledge, so there was this opportunity to create an administrative assistant position as part of that succession plan. And absorb some of the responsibilities of the Public Works Director and get an engineer hired for the City,” Mayor Dawson explained.
The timing was right for the change, “and it all just kind of clicked and Davies has a horizon of about six months where he wants to be gone (back to Idaho),” Mayor Dawson explained. “And the department has gone through so many evolutions over the years, it was important to have a time come in and take a hard look at it and see what it needed to look like, from someone from the outside.”
Having an engineer on staff is going to be a huge benefit to the City, Dawson said. “Not having one has been a disservice to the City over the years.”
Some of the benefits include helping out with project management, and coordination with GIS work to name a couple.
“That will keep us from having liabilities with our right-of-ways, things like that.” Dawson noted. “That will be good to have him (or her) there.”
SGR will be conducting the search. Dawson said that SGR said it would be much easier to find an engineer than a public works director. “Like I said, it all just kind of came together.”
The Mayor added that if citizens are concerned about the cost, he said that “we did the math, and we ended up spending an additional $17,000 a year, so it's not a huge expense like people would think.”
Shaw also spoke with KSIS Wednesday and said “I was really just struggling to keep up with the day-to-day stuff, and what was not getting done was the planning and looking forward and the new initiatives, and how can we move the City forward and all that kind of stuff.”
The assistant city administrator gives Shaw the opportunity to divide up some of the other departments. “So now with this new structure, he's got eight and I've got eight,” he said. Previously, Shaw dealt with 16 direct reports from department heads and three indirect reports.
Succession planning is part of his job.
“I won't be here forever,” Shaw told KSIS. “And I'm 63 years old. So at some point, i'm going to be looking at some sort of retirement. So having that assistant city administrator position helps us make that transition smoother.”
“We have a very great and active mayor, so that helps a lot, too, so teaming up and moving forward on these issues is really a big reason for it,” Shaw said.
Wirt's leadership skills made the decision much easier, adding that he has “great respect and admiration for Chief Wirt (now Assistant City Administrator Wirt) and his ability to lead people, and that's a big portion of the job. Beyond that, as far as technical capabilities, you know, there's a lot of overlap between what he does in law enforcement and what I do. You're reading and interpreting laws and trying to apply that,” he said.
State Statute dictates what authorities the city have, then the Council, by ordinance, sets what they want to have happen. Knowing how to implement those ordinances is vital.
Sedalia, a third-class city, is the largest non-charter municipality in Missouri, Shaw noted. There's only one or two other cities in Missouri over 15,000 population that are not charter cities.
City officials have expressed an interest in becoming a charter city and has been a part of the City's strategic planning process.
“It's a long process and involves a lot of community input, and ultimately, a vote of the people,” Shaw emphasized. “The mayor will lead the charge on that. We just want to make sure we go into it with eyes wide open.”
Shaw concluded by saying “we greatly appreciate Chris, he's doing a great job.”
Matt Wirt, who has served with the SPD since, told KSIS it was “a good opportunity with some of the restructuring and improvements that the City is making within the departments and how they are operated. I still enjoy law enforcement, I still feel strongly about our department and I'm going to remain commissioned. I obviously will no longer be the chief,” Wirt said. “Like I've said before, my goal is to serve the community, and that's the number one thing, however that is. I'm very confident in the people who are here, and the command staff, and the officers and our rank structure. So moving to a new position, I'm not worried about them, I'm not worried about the direction, because it's been a team effort to move the department in the direction that we're going. The vision that I have for the department is all a part of the vision of the command staff, and the City likes the direction we're going, so it makes sense that they can take the torch, in a sense, and continue the marathon,” Wirt said on Wednesday morning.
“Some of the goals that I have with this new position is obviously the community and then just working as hard as I can to make the City the best team it can be, to serve the community. All the employees are important, their jobs are important. You know, you don't necessarily see that, when you start off at your job. You know, I started darned near 25 years ago here as a reserve. That's about as low on the totem pole as you can get. I didn't have a lot of perspective there. But as I worked for the City, and as I've moved up, that perspective has grown,” Wirt said.
“Especially as a chief, you get an absolutely different perspective, because at that point, you see the importance of the different departments within the City. You see the importance of them working together, and you see almost a global approach to the community of bringing everybody together. So I'm excited about the opportunity to be part of that entire approach to serving the community, and I want to do the best I can to help encourage that and be a part of the future,” Wirt explained.
If there's anything that the SPD command staff needs from this point forward, Wirt said he is literally just a phone extension away across the street at the Municipal Building, “or a few steps or an email. They've got that resource, it's not like I'm leaving town.”
Wirt was born at Bothell Regional Health Center and attended Green Ridge School K-12. “I've never made it very far,” he joked.
“I didn't set out in my career to be police chief, that was not what I started at, you know, honestly my goal was, and I wanted to be in investigations. And I served a significant part of my career in investigations, but you know, much like Commander Woolery, I moved around the department as a sergeant and as a commander, so I knew a lot of those different aspects, and when the opportunity came up for chief, you know, I wanted that opportunity, because I had what I thought were good ideas, you know, and I had the passion for not only the community, but for the department, and the love of the people here. And so it just made sense,” Wirt recalled.
“So when I became chief, I didn't set out to be city administrator. But God has blessed me with good opportunities. I will be harder on myself than anybody else on my goals,” Wirt said.
Wirt said he looks forward to training through the Missouri Municipal League and a lot of intense, on-the-job training.
“As a police chief, you learn a lot about not only your own department and budgeting and how things operate, but again, you get that more global perspective within the City of how all the departments interact, and you're at all the budget proceedings,” Wirt noted.
Wirt, who admitted he likes challenges, said he was not that interested in the budget process when he was younger.
“As a government, you are always expected and should be expected to be as efficient with tax money as possible, and responsible. It's a challenge to fit what you need in, but yet be responsible.,” Wirt said.
The new assistant city administrator compared the budgeting process to a chess match. “How do we spend this money? How do we get the most out of every dollar for the taxpayer?”
“So obviously, I'm not so naive as to think I know everything. That would be a big mistake. And I'm also the type of person, too, that thinks you never stop learning. As police chief, every year, it's train and try to progress my knowledge, my understanding and my skills, and that's the same with this position. You never know everything. If you do, then it's probably time to retire at that point,” Wirt said.
Wirt knows he will still be putting in a lot of hours in his new position. “I've been on call since 2009, so not necessarily worrying as much about the phone ringing as I have, will be a blessing. But I'm still here for any of the departments within the City that need my help. If they call me at 2 o'clock in the morning, whether it's the Police Department, Fire Department or Street Department, I would still come and help. That's not only my job, but that's my belief. I want folks who work for me to know that I will work just as hard as them. Although they are the experts, I will be glad to help,” Wirt concluded.
Senior Commander David Woolery is now Interim Chief Woolery, but it was not his intention to be the chief of police.
“My intention is that somebody good runs the department. And I was completely happy continuing my career and serving my career with Chief Wirt running the agency. Because he was doing an excellent job, and I was very happy with that,” Chief Woolery told KSIS.
Woolery, who began his career with the SPD in May of 1995, said he has “worked with a lot of phenomenal people, and seen a lot of things, good and bad. A lot of examples that I could learn things from, whether they were good or bad, there's something to learn.
“But we have a phenomenal department, and I realize that I probably view it a certain way, but I'm extremely proud of the service that we provide, and the caliber of people that we have, and I just feel very blessed to be a part of it,” Interim Chief Woolery said.
He noted that the department is not fully staffed at this time, but is not in bad shape.
“I have friends who lead other agencies, and I talk to them pretty regularly, and we're usually in a little bit better shape than they are. But what we pay and the equipment and the training and everything else that we provide, still helps us draw folks into Sedalia, … and we actually have three officers graduating the police academy Thursday night, so they will start a field training program with three FTOs (field training officers) that they will work with and learn from for the next 14 weeks. And if they pass the FTO program, then they will start as full-time officers,” Chief Woolery said.
He added that he is very happy with the current training program, with good checks and balances. “We invest in people, but we invest in people who can do this job well. We've been able to keep our standards high, even with the market of available police officers, and if we've sent people to the police academy, and then they go through a FTO program, and even though they were able to graduate the police academy, they were not able to make the kinds of decisions or meet the standards that we need them to be here, and while it's painful to do, you know, you gotta let them go,” Woolery said.
“It's an important job, and in order to maintain the public trust that we try to do and give them the type officer we think they deserve, it's worth it,” Chief Woolery said.
He noted that the salary packages offered in Sedalia are very competitive, and “we're all very grateful for that.” He added that since Chief Wirt has been in charge, the salaries have increased by about 35 percent over the past five-and-a-half years, “which is very significant. And we try and come up with ways to attract new recruits, with packages.”
One thing that Woolery emphasized is that the SPD provides training for regional agencies for free. “And we do not try and steal officers from other agencies. We wouldn't want others to try and do that to us, even though we know it happens. And If I send an officer to training, I know someone's going to see the quality of that officer and they're going to try and take him. We don't do that to other agencies,” Chief Woolery promised.
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Gallery Credit: Meagan Drillinger