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Tim Gleason

Former Decatur City Manager Tim Gleason at a June city council meeting. 

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After 2½ years as city manager of Decatur, Tim Gleason stepped down in June to take the same position in Bloomington.

In his tenure as the chief executive of the city of Decatur, his goals included reshaping how the city managed its finances, tackling major infrastructure needs and improving its neighborhoods.

Faced with a declining population and tax base, he oversaw implementation of new revenue sources approved by the city council, including increased utility rates and a new local motor fuel tax to pay for road work.

He also scrutinized the costs of city operations, from the refinancing of long-term municipal bonds to consolidating and reorganizing staff departments and cutting the number of city employees. Gleason stressed building up the city’s cash reserves, which officials said had dwindled to the point that only five days of operating expenses were on hand in December 2015.

"If you take a look at everything that was accomplished under his tenure, we made significant progress," Councilwoman Lisa Gregory said in June.

In his first few months on the job, Gleason raised concerns about a near-completed deal that would have moved Macon County offices into empty space in the Decatur Public Library. The county office building would have been sold to a private developer, Main Place Properties, and the library would have been owned by the Decatur Public Building Commission.

Council members balked at the deal after Gleason presented pros and cons of the proposal and highlighted outstanding city debt related to the library facility. Instead, the city ultimately took ownership of the facility at 130 N. Franklin St. in May 2016.

Gleason’s firing of former Decatur Police Chief Brad Sweeney in February 2016 led to a lengthy court battle. Sweeney sued, saying he was fired in part because of his objection to Gleason's use of a police vehicle to travel to St. Louis for personal business immediately following a city event in May 2015. Gleason denied that Sweeney objected and said the trip was authorized by the late Mayor Mike McElroy.

Gleason and the city said in court documents that he had made the decision based on Sweeney's job performance.

The case was dismissed by judges at the trial and appellate court levels. Sweeney and the city reached a separation agreement in May that changed his status from terminated to retired.

Even as the city faced major financial challenges this year, Gleason encouraged the council to keep a steady course toward its major goals. The council in December approved a budget with a $3.2 million deficit, about $1.5 million of which stemmed from lost state funding. Another $1.2 million of the deficit was money set aside for police back pay as negotiations with the union continued.

Gleason said the spending plan would allow city staff to carry on important work that included planning for the Brush College Road overpass project, a sweeping neighborhood revitalization initiative and bond payments for sewer infrastructure updates ordered by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Some financial relief has come in recent years from the private foundation of Howard G. Buffett, who recently finished his tenure as Macon County sheriff. The philanthropist and son of multibillionaire Warren Buffett has poured money into the city's police department and offset city expenses in other ways by funding the installation of a fiber optic network and the creation of a regional emergency dispatch center.

More recently, the Buffett foundation donated $1 million to the long-awaited neighborhood revitalization project, which Gleason and the council launched in September. City leaders spent months seeking residents’ feedback to prioritize concerns and shape solutions.

Gleason "has done an outstanding job for us, and he's weathered some pretty rough storms, but he has positioned this city very well to move forward with the projects we have going on and those yet to be announced," Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe said in June.

The search for a new city manager is ongoing. Deputy City Manager Billy Tyus is filling the role on an interim basis, but declined to seek the position permanently, citing family reasons. 

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Contact Tom Lisi at (217) 421-6949. Follow him on Twitter: @tommylisi

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Decatur Reporter

Decatur reporter for the Herald & Review.

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