City manager position in Riverview has wild, wooly past

Hi Mr. Perry,

I read in our local paper that Lincoln Park was hiring a new city manager and it brought to mind when Riverview residents voted to become a city back in the late 1950s or early 1960s. I believe there were lots of problems that came with that and we had seven or eight city manages in a span of about 10 years. Can you elaborate?

Viola B.

Viola, thank you for your letter.

First of all, Riverview residents voted to become a charter village in May 1923. We were a village with a charter that included a “strong mayor, weak council” format of government, which meant that the mayor was the one really in charge of the city.

The city clerk was the person who supervised day-to-day city operations as directed by the mayor.

In 1958, a charter commission was formed to design a charter to change the village to a city. There were a lot of arguments within the commission as to what form of government the new small city should have.

It was decided by a vote of the residents that it be a “strong city manager” type of government. The reasoning was that the day-to-day running of city business could better be accomplished by a professional city manager.

When Riverview became a city in 1959, the charter dictated that we have a “weak mayor, strong city manager” system. The mayor was to act in the capacity of chairing meetings and doing ceremonial activities, but his was only one vote among the six council members. 

But the new council – filled with old, prior members – had a real struggle dealing with the new strong city manager, one who was truly in charge of the city, including the hiring and firing of city employees. The city manager’s power caused a lot of friction among council members, who were used to running things their way.

When city council didn’t like the way things were being run, the only way to change was to fire the city manager. And fire they did.

Here were some of the reasons given:

  • Council lost faith in him.
  • Council lost faith in his ability to cope.
  • Council lost faith in his ability to lead.
  • The city needed a new landfill director.

     There were more and there was a constant drumbeat of proposals to change back to a “strong mayor” government format.

The fired city managers had their say, of course. Here are some of them:

  • God help the next city manager.
  • Did you say I’ve been fired and they had the locks changed?
  • The city manager job in Riverview is the joke of the trade.

Finally, in August 1972, with a change of mayor and council positions, the city hired a professional out of Jackson, MO. His name was Harry J. Kollman and things finally settled down. This time, the hiring stuck.

Kollman became the ninth man to hold the city manager position in the 13-year history of Riverview. Included among that number are several acting or temporary city managers.

“My first goal is to try and bring some stability to the office of city manager,” Kollman said at the time.

And stabilize he did; Kollman lasted from 1972 until 1991.

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