NORTH OGDEN -- Public Works Director Mel Blanchard has announced he will retire at the end of September, leaving an administrative hole at a crucial time for the public works department.
The city is in the midst of building a multi-million-dollar public works building facility that has been the center of a firestorm of controversy since its inception two years ago.
Blanchard has helped with the different phases of reviewing and then rejecting potential sites, planning funding and exploring various different avenues that have been contentious during the project.
Blanchard has been with the city for over 30 years and also served as acting city manager for a short time.
A new director was to be named at the last city council meeting, but the action was postponed. An interim director may be appointed until a permanent replacement is found.
Blanchard's retirement marks the seventh retirement or resignation of either a department head or major administrative position in the city in the last 18 months.
City Manager Ed Dickie started the domino effect in March 2012, to be followed by the finance director, city attorney, police chief, fire chief, community services director and now public works director.
Mayor Richard Harris, who has served for one term as mayor, also decided not to seek a second term. Harris has served the city for the past 24 years -- first on the planning commission, then as a city councilman and now as mayor. He will be 71 when he leaves office.
"I won't deny the past four years have not been stressful in some ways," Harris said in an email. "Some members of the city council, some residents, and I have strongly disagreed on some issues. Unfortunately some of those disagreements have been quite contentious."
Harris did emphasize, however, that those stressful times did not outweigh the "marvelous" privilege of serving the city and being the mayor of North Ogden.
Harris also pointed out that every department head took the opportunity to move to a better-paying position or to accomplish personal goals. Others took the opportunity to retire after long and successful careers, he said.
City Councilman Justin Fawson agreed with the mayor in recognizing those who had retired or moved on. He is also said he has been pleased with the new or promoted employees who have replaced the former executives.
"There is no indication that I can see that these employees were 'driven out' or even dissatisfied when they chose to move to these new opportunities," Fawson said.
Retired Community Services Director Dave Nordquist said he sees things a bit differently.
"For them to say there is not a morale problem, at least in my department, is not right," Nordquist said. He said some of the new council members in recent years made it seem like everything was broken in the city, when things truly weren't, he said.
"My department was in the best shape it could have been ... we all knew it, but they made it seem like it wasn't. Like it was broken," he said.
He said he made the decision to retire 50 percent based on his family needs and age and 50 percent because of all the fighting and dissention on the council.
"I just didn't have the energy to go through all the arguing and tension on the council," he said. He noted that it wasn't against him necessarily, but the fight that some council members put up to privatize things in his department was also hard to take.
Nordquist said he could not speak for the other employees, but he also knows that no one decided to necessarily extend past their retirement time -- they got out when they could.
Both councilmen Wade Bigler and Brent Taylor gave kudos to employees in the city, saying they appreciate all they do for the city, but Taylor said that some departing employees have told him their reason for departure is the political climate in North Ogden.
"Too much political debate has spilled over onto employees during the last few years," Taylor said. He brought up occasions when employees have been denounced or accused of wrongdoing publicly by a council member, but are helpless to respond because they may lose their job.
Taylor acknowledged there are several factors that make employees leave other than a bad political climate.
"Under Mayor Harris's leadership we have found absolutely fantastic replacements, including (City Manager) Ron Chandler," Taylor said.
The council and mayor all said they would continue to work hard to have qualified candidates in leadership positions in the city.