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Attempt to oust Charlie Van Zant fails in Keystone Heights

Council votes 4-1 to continue contract with city manager

Posted 5/9/24

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Just minutes after  Elston Kussler  was sworn in during the city council meeting on May 6, his first official statement on the dais was defending City …

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Attempt to oust Charlie Van Zant fails in Keystone Heights

Council votes 4-1 to continue contract with city manager


Posted

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – Just minutes after  Elston Kussler was sworn in during the city council meeting on May 6, his first official statement on the dais was defending City Manager Van Zant from having him fired.

"I want to bring forth a motion to terminate the contract with the city manager," Vice Mayor Christine Thompson said. 

The room descended to a hushed silence. A gasp could be heard from the audience. 

Apparently, it was unexpected for Van Zant as well.

Months ago, the council voted 3-2, with Mayor Nina Rodenroth and the vice mayor dissenting, on Jan. 3 to offer the job to Van Zant following the resignation of Lynn Rutkowski. Van Zant signed his contract and was on the job on Jan. 9.

“I think he’s done a great job. He’s working on our policies. He’s been working like crazy to do right by this city,” Councilmember Dan Lewandowski said.

Thompson said she entered City Hall on more than one occasion to find Van Zant absent and what appeared to be “kids studying." She said she had not been included on conversations about the budget. 

“Where did these people come from? They just suddenly appeared,” Thompson said.

“I have brought you a staff,” Van Zant said.

Van Zant said the young employees were hired for temporary roles such as bookkeeper and administrative assistant with hourly wages ranging between $15-$20 an hour.

Van Zant was criticized for not consulting the council and the “revolving door,” an apparent high turnover rate for new administrative roles which had been ongoing since before he took office.

Rodenroth spoke highly of the administrative workers who stayed on. She said they were friendly and impressed with their work ethic. However, her issue was with the legal implications, particularly. She asked Van Zant if the jobs were advertised properly and legally, which Van Zant said they were.

With Thompson dissenting, the council voted 4-1 to continue the contract with the city manager.

“(During my military service) I have been shot at. Words don’t hurt me. I wish we could’ve talked properly,” Van Zant said.

After the meeting, Van Zant appeared slightly rattled but also grateful. He said his goal is to make the council confident in him as a city manager.

“I’ll win her over,” Van Zant said. 

The Keystone Heights City Council meets monthly on the first Monday. The next meeting will be June 3 at 6 p.m. 

Editor's note -- a previous edition misattributed Vice Mayor Christine Thompson's quote, "I want to bring forth a motion to terminate the contract with the city manager,"  to Mayor Nina Rodenroth. The correction has been made on the online article.