by CHRIS ROGERS
The city of Winona’s top administrator for nearly six years, Steve Sarvi, is no longer working for the city as of last Friday afternoon. The announcement came after Sarvi was out of the office last week following a closed session meeting of the City Council on Tuesday to discuss his performance. The City Council didn’t fire him, but Sarvi’s response suggests the decision to leave was not his idea. City Council members, other city officials, and Sarvi himself wouldn’t comment on why.
“In a half hour I will no longer be employed by the city,” Sarvi said during a Friday afternoon interview. He added, “I’m just full of gratitude for the people I’ve worked with and to have served the community for the past five years.”
Sarvi declined to comment on whether he resigned. Asked about the reason for the split, he responded, “Apparently they wanted to go in a different direction.”
A press release from the city stated Sarvi had not been fired or disciplined. Human Resources Manager Deb Beckman declined to comment on whether he resigned. The statement offered no further explanation on the nature of or reason for Sarvi’s departure. “The city is confident that it will continue to serve the community safely, effectively, and efficiently. Assistant City Manager Chad Ubl will continue as acting city manager as established for his job position. The city will determine its next steps for appointing a regular city manager,” the statement reads.
Mayor Scott Sherman declined to comment, citing privacy laws. City Council members Michelle Alexander and George Borzyskowski declined to comment and said Sherman and Assistant City Manager Chad Ubl are the only individuals authorized to publicly discuss what happened. Ubl did not respond to multiple interview requests.
Since he joined the city in February 2016, all of Sarvi’s previous performance evaluations by the City Council were positive, according to the brief synopses made public, with Sarvi “exceeding expectations” in many categories. During his tenure, Winona made progress in revitalizing downtown, improving city parks, and winning state funding. However, this fall, there was some tension between Sarvi and some council members over the city’s difficult budget situation for 2022, when the city will be forced to cut six vacant staff positions and trim road repair funding despite raising taxes.
Alexander and City Council member Steve Young raised concerns this fall about the city’s budget and deficit spending. Alexander said that Sarvi’s proposed use of reserve funds in the 2022 budget would go against one of the city’s own financial policies. “Our financial policy … is that we are not to use cash reserves for operating costs … I also think it sets a bad precedent since we’ve all adopted that financial policy,” she said.
Those concerns were not shared by the entire City Council. Sherman and council member Eileen Moeller argued that reserve spending can serve a purpose and backed Sarvi’s proposal to more gradually wean the city off of reserve spending and avoid more difficult budget cuts.