Ralston’s first city administrator, who was hired in part to get the Ralston Arena’s finances on track, is resigning because he has “lost the full support of the (City) Council and the mayor,” he said in an interview.
Dave Forrest, who will soon leave the city after more than two years on the job, said his relationship with some city leaders has become “unworkable.”
Forrest notified Mayor Don Groesser of his resignation a few weeks ago, both men told The World-Herald in separate interviews Thursday. Forrest has been seeking a new job.
“I would say that, since I came on board, we’ve been implementing a lot of changes and we’ve been taking a hard look at the way the city does things,” Forrest said. “I think that’s caused some friction.”
Groesser largely agreed with Forrest’s assessment, saying that the administrator never garnered full support among council members, support that would be “critical” for success.
Asked if Forrest had lost his support, Groesser said “not totally, no.”
“I truly believe he and I were working well together,” Groesser said. “Were there some times that we disagreed? Sure, but there was never — I never had any real problems.”
An opening for the administrator role was posted on the city website’s job opportunities page Wednesday afternoon.
Forrest’s last day has not been scheduled. His most recent salary was $109,242, according to the city.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
Ralston’s first city administrator faced an uphill battle when he joined the city in 2017. When Forrest was hired, the Ralston Arena was operating in the red. Since its 2012 opening, the arena has not turned a profit.
“We need a plan,” Forrest told the Ralston City Council in February 2018 during a period of discord among city leaders. At that time, officials had begun to acknowledge that the arena wasn’t performing as expected.
Forrest’s suggestion at the time: Hire an outside consultant to provide a more realistic look at the arena’s finances.
The city would go on to pay more than $55,000 to a national consulting firm to analyze the arena’s finances and ultimately search for a private management firm to operate the venue.
Last February, the City Council voted on a five-year contract to turn over operations of the arena to Spectra Venue Management, a Philadelphia-based company that will receive about $96,000 a year, plus incentives, to operate the arena.
The arena is projected to have a net operating loss of $898,000 in the fiscal year that ends next fall — an improvement from the $1.25 million from the previous fiscal year.
Groesser credited Forrest with overseeing the intensive process that led to Spectra’s involvement.
“Dave’s accomplished a lot,” the mayor said.
When the city began pursuing an administrator in 2017, Ralston was the only Nebraska first-class city — a city with a population between 5,000 and 100,000 people — without an administrator.
Forrest said Thursday that no single issue, such as his management of the arena’s future, contributed to the deterioration of his relationship with some city leaders. He said he made a number of changes — meant to make the city more efficient and save money — that “ruffled feathers” in City Hall.
For example, Forrest said the city was being “overly generous” with some of its employee benefits compared to peer cities.
“It was just unsustainable, particularly when you consider the financial state the city’s in,” Forrest said.
As a result, Ralston cut some benefits for employees, which apparently didn’t sit well with some in the city.
Jerry Krause, president of the Ralston City Council, said he thinks Forrest did a good job managing the city. He cited Forrest’s work on big projects and some of the financial decisions he made as examples of changes that will push Ralston forward.
Groesser said Forrest played an important role in the development of the Hinge project, a conceptual plan by the city to redevelop 72nd Street near the Ralston Arena to draw people into downtown. At its most recent City Council meeting, Ralston approved a master plan for the project, which provides a road map for how the city can proceed.
“He’s been really key in getting all that done,” Groesser said.
Forrest also helped craft an application that led to Ralston’s inclusion in a federal tax incentive program designed to spur investment in distressed communities by providing federal tax deferments.
“I think (Ralston is) going in (the right) direction, but it’s been a challenge,” Forrest said. “And change is a hard thing.”