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City manager named

Longtime Public Works Director Jerry Ihler is Lawton's new city manager, the City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday.

Council members made the decision after meeting for about an hour in executive session following an open session that included an amendment to next year's recently approved budget and the withdrawal of a plan to increase the monthly refuse fee by $1.

Ihler had been named acting city manager May 26 after moving into a new assistant city manager spot this spring. At the time, former City Manager Bryan Long had indicated a plan that would give the city two assistant city managers, one to oversee administrative departments (a post held by Assistant City Manager Jim Russell) and one to oversee operations, or the departments with the most direct interaction with the public and other entities (Ihler's post).

Earlier this month, the council voted to designate Ihler as acting city manager, returning Russell (who had been filling that role) to his assistant city manager role. Tuesday's action by the council designates Ihler as city manager for "an indefinite" term and gives him the right to revert back to assistant city manager if his role as city manager ends, subject to annual review of the council. The proposal, which gained unanimous approval from all eight council members and Mayor Fred Fitch, also grants Ihler an annual salary of $160,516, three months of severance pay, and allows him to accrue sick leave and vacation time under the same terms as is given to general employees.

Ihler, who has worked for the City of Lawton for 31 years, has spent 20 years as Public Works director. A former member of the city engineering department, Ihler left the city for a time, but returned in 1992 to serve as city engineer, before that position was combined with the Public Works director position in 1995.

As city manager, Ihler will continue overseeing a difficult budget process that council members have been fighting with, to craft the document that will guide expenditures and project revenues for the Fiscal 2015-2016 year that begins July 1.

The council approved the budget two weeks ago to meet the state-mandated deadline for putting a budget in place, but then voted Tuesday to make several changes to that document.

That process started with the council's decision  made June 9 in its capacity as the Lawton Water Authority  to withdraw a $1 increase that members had voted onto the monthly refuse charge. The resolution creating the increased fee specified the revenue would help maintain twice-a-week residential trash collection, something that had been trimmed to once-a-week in the preliminary budget. City administrators said that if the council wanted to retain twice-a-week collections, they would have to identify $375,000 to cover that cost.

Ward 8 Councilman Doug Wells called the wording on the resolution "accounting," noting, as he has in previous council meetings, that the increased revenue actually would help the city cover projected shortfalls in its self-funded employee insurance plan, where expenditures have outpaced revenues several times this fiscal year. The plan has drawn fire from some residents, who are angry that the council made the decision to increase the refuse fee by $1 after removing a $1 surcharge for alternative water sources, a funding stream that helped pay for cloud seeding (a contract cancelled in May) and one that was supposed to last only through February 2016.

The Lawton Constitution

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