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With city manager position filled, Watertown hopes to move on

City of Watertown Planning and Community Development

The Watertown City Council recently named a new city manager, ending a months-long search and, potentially, what has been a years-long saga to find a steady presence for that office.

Kenneth Mix, who has served as the interim city manager since January, will stay on the job for at least another two years - the longest contract Watertown's city charter permits. The council unanimously selected him for the role, citing the 30 years Mix has worked for the city, which includes time as the head of Watertown's planning department.

"Mr. Mix brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position," said Councilor Ryan Henry-Wilkinson. "He’s been with the city for many years, so this was an opportunity I think for the city to retain a lot of that institutional knowledge."

But Henry-Wilkinson said the experience that may have won the council over the most was Mix's effort this year to help them pass a balanced budget during the pandemic without massive layoffs or cuts to city services.

"I think it's Mr. Mix's combination of patience and a steady hand that have helped guide the city through this catastrophe," Henry-Wilkinson said. 

Mix's decades of experience also provided the council with a record to review. Watertown Mayor Jeff Smith said top of mind during the search process was former city manager Rick Finn, who resigned earlier this year after confrontations with other city employees. In the search that preceded Finn's hiring, the council discovered complaints he had faced while serving as a city manager in other municipalities. Finn was later accused of similar behavior by Watertown city staff and chose to leave after an investigation.

By contrast, Smith said Mix had the respect of staff.

"He definitely knew most or many of the department heads and worked with them previously, so they were very comfortable with him," Smith said. "We were going to move forward with somebody that was not controversial that was qualified and, you know, he's not going to create big waves."

Prior to Finn, Sharon Addison held the position for several years but departed in 2018 after disagreements with new city councilors. 

Given what has been a tumultuous year for the city, Smith said he's comforted that the city's leadership positions are filled and officials can start focusing on long-term projects. First on the list for Mix is the city's financial future.

"We've got to start looking at next year’s budget already," Mix said. "We expect it to still be a difficult budget to put together and long-term is to figure out how to address the fact that we’ve got a major revenue loss in 10 years."

Watertown's multi-million-dollar hydro contract with National Grid ends in 2029.

"My hope is that Ken will help us steady the ship, so to speak, given our precarious financial future," Henry-Wilkinson said. "The hope is we get can one or two important projects done every year as we go into 2030 with the loss of that hydro contract - move the ball down the field a little bit every year."

Mix also plans to work with the council on implementing the downtown revitalization project and overseeing the decommissioning of one of the city's three public pools.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.