Superior’s Human Resources Committee won’t explore creating a city administrator position, at least not for now.
The panel tabled discussion of the recommendation to improve efficiencies in city government. RW Management Group recommended the city consider a full-time administrator and reduce the elected mayor to a part-time job.
It’s a question that will be put to city voters in November in the form of an advisory referendum. In January, the council split 6-4 to put the matter on the Nov. 3 ballot.
“I think it’s important to find out if a city administrator is something the city needs long-term,” said Councilor Jack Sweeney. “It’s not my interest to dither about a part-time mayor. I think I would be against a part-time mayor. But it is my interest, as the company suggested, to find out if a city administrator is beneficial to the city long-term.”
Councilors Jenny Van Sickle and Ruth Ludwig said it didn’t make sense to spend a lot of time on the issue until the council knows whether people would even support the idea of eliminating an elected full-time mayor to hire a more expensive administrator.
Ludwig said while the Human Resources Committee established its process in December, the council effectively took the decision out of the committee’s hands.
“I feel at this time, since the council chose to take it out of human resource’s hands by putting it on a ballot, I’m not sure we should proceed with the research until after we know what the citizens want,” Ludwig said. “Why should we put all this research into it and the citizens say ‘No, we don’t want it’?”
In January, when the council split 6-4 to put the measure on the ballot, several Superior residents spoke out against the measure.
Ludwig and Van Sickle were among the councilors to vote against it.
Mayor Jim Paine said there are actually two questions — whether voters would like to hire an administrator and take the mayor out of the day-to-day operations or whether an administrator could help. Van Sickle asked the consultant about whether having the mayor’s chief of staff serve in a more traditional capacity would eliminate the need for an administrator and received an affirmative answer. Paine said that was taken into consideration when former Chief of Staff Rani Gill retired.
“When we were re-evaluating the chief of staff … we added even more duties and hired Mr. (Nick) Raverty,” Paine said. Raverty, who has a background in public administration, is working to make the mayor’s office more administratively capable, Paine said.
Raverty is in his third week as chief of staff, and said there are three important elements to the chief of staff position: acting as a strategic adviser to the chief executive officer, handling day-to-day projects for the mayor’s office and developing collaboration across the city departments. He said he’s ready to work on and expand those duties.
Van Sickle said she couldn’t support an administrator based on feedback she’s had on the proposal and research she’s done on the issue.
“I don’t know how the referendum will shake out in November,” she said.
A study by Karl Nollenberger and James Simmons at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh analyzed the impact of forms of municipal government in Wisconsin. They found that while levels of conflict ran higher and cooperation was less in mayor-council structures compared to forms of government with an administrator, general government expenditures were also lower with a mayor-council.
Paine said he, too, dug up the study and read it. Under Wisconsin law, mayors are the chief executive officer and any duties assigned to an administrator are inherently vested in the mayor, creating the potential for conflict, Paine said. Conflict doesn’t exist in the chief of staff model because the chief of staff carries out the mission of the mayor, he said.
“Those governments that are adding professional administrators are becoming less efficient,” Paine said.
Sweeney said he thinks the council has a duty to investigate the option.
“I think the mayor we have is qualified,” he said. “That doesn’t mean the next three mayors would be qualified. Anyone could run for mayor … I just think we have an obligation to look at it.”
Van Sickle said Sweeney made a good point because voters could elect an incompetent mayor.
“It’s much easier to get rid of an incompetent mayor than an incompetent administrator,” Van Sickle said.
She said the administrator/part-time mayor proposal wasn’t prescribed in good faith and motioned to table the proposal. Ludwig seconded the motion.
The panel could bring it up again if voters say they want an administrator/part-time mayor structure and councilors agree to give it another look.