Superior’s City Council is considering a resolution that would ask voters if they want to change the way the city is governed.
Councilor Dan Olson plans to introduce the resolution Tuesday, Jan. 7 to let the Council decide if voters should have a say on recommendations made in an organizational and staffing study by RW Management Group in November.
RW recommended the city consider creating a city administrator position to “professionalize the business of running the city.”
The study recommended the Council hire a full-time city administrator and reduce the mayor to part-time, among several recommendations suggested to improve city operations.
“For me, I think it’s a lot more transparent if we take the time to go with the recommendation,” Olson said. “The taxpayers paid $44,000 to have the study done … if we’re going to do what’s best for the city, it’s best to have the city be a part of the process. We’ll let the people decide if that’s the way they want to go.”
The referendum asks: “Shall the City of Superior establish a City Administrator position and a part-time Mayor?”
A “yes” vote would advise the Council that a voter is in favor of the measure and a “no” vote would demonstrate opposition to the idea before the Council would consider changing the form of government in the city's charter.
“I just think it’s a better form of governance,” Olson said.
The advisory referendum would not require the Council to act regardless of the outcome, but it could serve as a tool to determine whether the city should change its form of government.
A city administrator would be a hired position accountable to the City Council, whereas the mayor, as an elected official, is accountable to the people.
Mayor Jim Paine said he opposes the resolution for that very reason.
“An elected mayor is accountable to the people … and they’re accountable in a few ways,” Paine said. “Not only do they get to choose the mayor after a months-long election and campaign process, they can remove that person if they don’t like the job that they’re doing in a bunch of different ways. We not only have the recall option and removal option, but also terms end. Every four years, the city gets to review how well a mayor is doing. That changes the way a mayor leads. That keeps the mayor accountable to the people, not to the staff, not to the overall administration.”
Paine served on the Douglas County Board when the county’s administrator fired a popular veterans service officer over a conviction for an ordinance violation of theft. The termination prompted an outcry from veterans in Douglas County and left many on the Board frustrated that the administrator couldn’t be held accountable for it.
“I was very frustrated in that process,” Paine said.
If the administrator had been an elected official, Paine said the citizens who were upset could have sought recourse at the ballot box.
It’s that accountability that will be lost if an elected position is replaced by a city administrator. It can be difficult to terminate an administrator for just a few decisions, Paine said. While the consultant, Ed Henschel of RW, told the Council that if he served as administrator he could be fired over his shirt, Paine said that is simply not true.
Olson acknowledged that the Council would have to carefully craft any changes to the city charter to avoid those kinds of pitfalls. While he’s planning to step down in April, Olson said he would be willing to serve as a citizen representative if the Council moves forward with any changes to the city’s charter.
Changing the city charter requires a vote of two-thirds of the Council to pass.
The Council considers the referendum at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7 in Room 201 of the Government Center.