In a 10 to 3 vote, the Racine Common Council voted to hire on James Palenick as its new city administrator in a three-year contract.
He replacec Tom Freidel, who is retiring at the end of March.
Palenick was attracted to Racine’s potential, he said.
“There’s so much here that an outsider sees that maybe insider’s don’t,” he said. “You’ve got this incredible inventory of these great historic buildings. You’ve got a lot of industry and a lot of things going on. Some people here feel like it’s going away, but to people from other places it feels like there’s still a lot here.”
Palenick’s career spans over 28 years in local government positions in Michigan, New Mexico and North Carolina. His current position is the director of economic and business development for the City of Fayetteville, North Carolina. He’s been at the job for a little over a year, but previously served as a town manager for Dallas North Carolina for four years and a city manager for Gastonia, North Carolina for five years. Palenick holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Western Michigan University, with honors.
But Palenick’s employment history, which included being terminated from his three previous positions, also became a source of concern for some alderman. However, City Attorney Scott Letteney explained that Palenick termination had nothing to do with his performance, but rather reflected a change in political power in those communities.
City administrators often serve at the pleasure of the mayor. In some states, the people in those positions can be terminated without cause when a new administration comes into office. This is what happened with Palenick, Letteney explained.
“So does that mean that there would be no red flags because he was fired three times under previous administrations?” Ald. Henry Perez asked Letteney.
“I would say there were no red flags in this case,” Letteney said.
Alderman Sandy Weidner raised concerns about the city’s hiring process because notes were not shared between the first and second round of interviews, which were conducted by different people.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said.
Palenick’s contract includes a salary of $140,000 per year. He would receive an increase based on a positive performance evaluation, have 15 vacation days and the option to use up to 30 days for sick leave. The contract also includes six-month severance package if he is terminated other than for cause. Those are the same conditions included in Freidel’s contract.
Palenick is expected to start the job on April 21.
“There’s a lot of potential,” he said. “There’s that magnificent lakefront. There’s a hardworking community that believes in family, culture and tradition, and having a good time… those are all the things that make a real kind of community.”