By CHRISTIN COYNE
A move by two Willow Park city council members to restrict the authority of the city administrator failed Tuesday night when a proposed ordinance was put to the vote.
Council members Bernard Suchocki and Dan Stalling voted for the ordinance that city staff said would limit the power of the mayor as well as the city administrator and require daily oversight of the city by council. However, without the support of council members Amy Podany, Gene Martin and Brian Thornburg, who voted against the changes, the measure failed.
“I see some problems with the way things have been going,” Suchocki told the council Tuesday night. “I think we need to restrict the activities of the city administrator.”
The proposal came months after the city council hired a new city administrator in January and, in March, amended the city code of ordinances regarding the city administrator’s qualification and responsibility requirements. Some of the same issues rejected earlier in the year by some council members while crafting the current city administrator ordinance were proposed again by Suchocki Tuesday night.
“The city council must protect against management abuses that have occurred in the past,” Suchocki said of the rationale behind the ordinance. “This to me is a case of the tail wagging the dog and it should be the dog wagging the tail.”
Suchocki said he didn’t need to point out abuses in the past.
The proposed ordinance would have required the city administrator to bring the city management’s procedural changes to the council for approval, according to Suchocki.
“I think it’s incumbent on the city administrator before he makes any changes to plats, to site approvals, the way the procedures are handled or even in contracts, that all those procedures come to the city council first,” Suchocki said. “This is what this is designed to do.”
“I think that before the city administrator can appoint or terminate anyone he needs the approval of the city council,” Suchocki said.
The proposed ordinance was also intended to curtail oversight of the city’s police and fire department personnel by the city administrator.
“I don’t really think the city administrator really has the expertise to really get involved …” Suchocki said, whose bill would have left oversight solely with the police and fire chiefs, who have contracts with the city.
“During the first city administrator ordinance, I didn’t envision that the city administrator would have the power he has apparently assumed,” Suchocki said. “I envisioned that any changes — and I want to hear any changes, any recommendations — that they would come up to city council.”
Another ordinance change would have required the city administrator to produce a written executive report one week prior to each regularly scheduled council meeting.
The city administrator currently provides a written monthly report to council members, though Suchocki said he wanted the report to provide additional specific information, including updates to the action item list, information on potential developers meeting with the city and a list of any contracts signed by the city.
The proposed ordinance would also have allowed any elected official to interview any department supervisor and perform on site inspections without going through the city administrator, something the mayor and several council members expressed concern about when Suchocki made the proposal earlier in the year.
There was no discussion of the ordinance by those who opposed it Tuesday night.
However, City Administrator Matt Shaffstall weighed in on a draft of the ordinance in a June memo to council.
“The role of the city administrator is to oversee the day-to-day operations of the city and carry out the city council’s goals and objectives,” Shaffstall wrote. “The proposed changes weaken the city administrator’s ability to carry out the assigned duties and keep the city running smoothly.”
“The proposed changes in this ordinance constitute a unilateral change in form of government, curtailing the powers of the chief executive officer and administrative officer, while increasing the powers of the city council,” Shaffstall wrote.
He believed the changes would in effect require the council to approve every action by the city administrator and, though he would have the ability to hire and fire staff, he would be unable to provide staff with direction, requiring daily council meetings.
“The proposed changes strip the mayor and city administrator of nearly all functions and authority,” Shaffstall wrote. “The proposed changes reassert the mayor as the chief executive officer, but then impose on the executive officer’s ability to give direction to the chief administrative officer, while stripping both offices of the ability to execute city policy. This simply isn’t a workable form of government.”
The city would be better served by working on a home rule charter, so that when the city’s population reaches 5,000, the issue can be put before voters and, if approved, give the city more rights and powers than are allowed general law cities under state law, Shaffstall said.