Voters will decide Nov. 3 if the city should hire an administrator and reduce the role of the mayor to part time.
The City Council voted 6-4 to ask voters for their opinion on a recommendation made in the organization and staffing study conducted by RW Management Group, Inc.
Councilor Dan Olson, who introduced the resolution, asked to amend the original April 7 election day to the Nov. 3 election to give councilors more time to vet the issue before presenting it to voters.
The Council commissioned the study to determine staffing levels for efficient delivery of city services in June. In November, the Council received a final report with 32 recommendations intended to improve efficiency in city operations. Among them was a proposal to hire a professional city administrator and reduce the city’s full-time elected mayor to a part-time position in city government.
It’s a recommendation that didn’t sit well with members of the public who lined up to speak primarily against a resolution to put the question to voters.
“I’m here tonight to show my opposition to making the mayor part-time and instituting a city administrator,” said Amanda Foster of Central Park. “A part-time mayor will show the city is OK with unfair wages, more money spent on bureaucracy and less representation of the people.”
For the mayor to do the job correctly, Foster said the Council would be asking the mayor to work many hours unpaid, while creating a more costly position to do a job the mayor already does well.
Foster urged the Council and the public to vote no on the referendum to retain the public’s role in serving as a check on the mayor’s performance, something that would be lost if the city hired an administrator.
“A vote for the referendum is a vote against fair wages, fiscal responsibility and our system of representative democracy,” Foster said.
Deonne Nelson, formerly of the Twin Cities, said she favors keeping a full-time mayor and supports Mayor Jim Paine because she felt welcome in her new community after being able to talk to him.
Superior residents Stephan Witherspoon of the Mayor’s Commission on People of Color, Mary Smith-Johnson, Judith Hack and Garner Moffat also spoke against the resolution.
“I’m highly opposed to this resolution … we need more representation,” Witherspoon said.
“I am in favor of a full-time mayor,” said Smith-Johnson. “A full-time mayor is the face of Superior, to the rest of the state … to perspective businesses, for tourism, for people looking for a home by the lake.”
Hack, a retired Superior teacher, said she opposed the resolution because it is being put on the ballot hastily, without a lot of planning. She reminded the Council that the city operated with a manager and abandoned it in favor of having a mayor as chief executive and a city council in 1959.
“I’m in favor of this type of government because it gives us checks and balances, and it makes leadership work as a team … and eliminates personal agendas,” Hack said. She reminded councilors the recommendation came from someone who had served as a city administrator.
Moffat asked the councilors if they could do the mayor's job in 20 hours per week, and said he thought the report was sloppy and failed to address the city’s largest departments.
While the Council sought no counsel on the police and fire departments, many councilors have commented on the report’s failure to address staffing in the Public Works Department.
“Why would I move to a city without a democracy?” said Zeb Stevens of Chisholm, Minn., who is considering a move to Superior.
“We’re watching our democracy being eroded … we’re not going to take it,” Stevens added.
“Can we vote out an administrator?” asked Dee Fetters of East End.
“I believe in elections and that’s how it should stay in our community,” said Deb Semborski of Billings Park.
The only person to speak in favor of a full-time city administrator was Mayor Rick Cannata of Hibbing, Minn., who said a city administrator, while expensive, handles the day-to-day details of city government. However, he acknowledged that while his is a part-time mayoral position, it is a full-time job serving as the face of city.
Councilors Keith Kern, Dan Olson, Jack Sweeney, Brent Fennessey, Tylor Elm and Craig Sutherland voted in favor of putting the measure before voters on Nov. 3.
Fennessey said he supports a mayoral form of government but voted in favor of the putting the matter on the ballot because it’s a bigger issue than 10 city councilors should decide.
Councilors Jenny Van Sickle, Warren Bender, Ruth Ludwig and Esther Dalbec voted against the resolution.
“I’m voting no because I believe in leadership, not dictatorship,” Dalbec said.