By Cameron Rasmusson
If it clears an eventual council vote, officials may add a major new city position this budget season.
Council members are considering adding a city administrator position to the list of city staff. If the position is approved, the hired individual would follow the council’s cue by enacting policies and projects voted upon by the elected body. First discussions of the proposal took place at Wednesday’s council meeting.
Contrary to rumors that spread throughout the week, the proposed city administrator position isn’t intended to replace the office of mayor. Rather, the administrator would work at the direction of publicly elected officials. It’s an approach that’s long been discussed but never seriously considered until now, according to City Treasurer Shannon Syth.
“We have talked about this for several years” she said. “Back when [former councilman] John Reuter was here, it was discussed.”
Typically experienced professionals with extensive education and training, city administrators usually draw a sizable salary—up to six figures at the upper end of the spectrum. That hefty expense prompted some skepticism from council meeting attendees, who questioned its necessity.
“I see storefronts crumbling, I see sidewalks crumbling … I don’t think this is feasible or defensible in any way,” said resident Anita Perry.
Perry also worried that the turn-over rate for city administrators is too high, leading to a lack of continuity. Meanwhile, she said it could shield the council from accountability.
“They could say [about a project], ‘We have this expert, we listened to our expert and it didn’t work out.’”
Resident Mose Dunkel, meanwhile, wondered whether the position would merely double responsibilities already handled by city staff, like Planning and Economic Development Director Aaron Qualls.
“To me that’s the biggest question,” he said. “Is this job being done already?”
“I don’t feel like the heart going into that job [by a hired employee] is going to be the same as someone who puts themselves out for that job [as an elected official],” he added.
One way or another, the discussion over the potential new position is just beginning. Council members will have to weigh the decision—one of many—as budget planning continues through the summer into the fall.