Lois and Craig Kocian: Keep city’s system
I was incredulous to read (ViewPoints, Jan. 22) Stuart Beall’s call for a change in the form of Steamboat’s government from the present “council-manager” to “strong mayor.”
There are few bad ideas in the daily interplay of a healthy democracy, but it is crucial to that discourse that everyone with a stake in the outcome and, in this case, that is everyone, not be misled about the subject.
Most importantly, Beall, in what we hope was not deliberate, wrongly titled the present form as “strong city manager.” The National Civic League offers the model city charter for this form as “city council/city manager,” with the emphasis on the city council’s governing role. That is a critical distinction to make, because Beall did not mention that the full title for his choice is “strong mayor/weak council.”
To sharpen the distinction, consider that, in the present Steamboat form, the city manager works for all seven of the council members. Any council or staff initiative needs the majority of council to progress. The success and tenure of the manager and his staff depends upon the continued ability of the manager and staff to retain the confidence and goodwill of a majority of the council and the community from week-to-week. The manager works at the pleasure of the council. Whatever “strength” that is vested in the manager and staff is the result of council’s confidence in their performance.
Contrast that picture to Beall’s preferred form where the administration is subordinate to the “strong (known in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as ‘boss’) mayor,” alone. The mayor hires and fires the department heads. The mayor is no longer an equal member of the council. Rather, the staff and city resources are directed by the mayor, alone, who may, or may not, have any training in leadership, finance, management, emergency management, or strategic planning, or any relevant subject, to the exclusion of the remainder of the council, whose role in implementing the intent of its legislation is marginalized. In the strong mayor form, the council gets one annual shot at governance as it applies to administrative direction and expenditure: when they adopt the budget. The strength of the “strong mayor” is derived from only one source: the weakening of the role of the council in community governance. Pray that you are not a citizen or councilmember who is on the mayor’s wrong side.
Intense debate and diligence in the conduct of how we govern ourselves is always appropriate. The idea of charismatic leadership is attractive, but, if the new mayor isn’t also uncompromisingly ethical and a great manager, the town and its citizens suffer with that person for four long, painful, expensive, divisive, difficult, counterproductive years.
City managers are trained and educated to operate and maintain municipal corporations, their finances, infrastructure, to ensure the equitable and effective distribution of the city’s resources, and to work for the entire council at its (majority) direction. If the city manager isn’t in tune with the council and the community, then he can be gone next week. Simple as that.
Lois and Craig Kocian
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