Voters were unequivocal on whether the city should hire an administrator and reduce its full-time mayor to a part-time job.
About 71% of voters gave a resounding “no” to the referendum placed on the Tuesday, Nov. 3, ballot by a majority of the City Council.
“I wasn’t terribly surprised,” Mayor Jim Paine said about the outcome. “It just showed the city wasn’t interested in going backwards … they’ve always been the one’s in charge and I think they wanted to keep it that way.”
Superior did operate with a city manager-councilor form of government in the 1940s and 1950s, a system that was fraught with problems between the manager and council. City residents ended that system with a referendum, restoring the city’s mayor-council form of government.
The referendum question was proposed by former City Councilor Dan Olson to determine what residents thought of a recommendation to improve the efficiency of the city.
Olson said he wasn’t surprised by the outcome. With more than 12,000 votes cast, he said it suggested that voters are satisfied with city government.
However, Olson said he was disappointed that the city’s human resources committee tabled the recommendation without vetting the matter and that the pandemic limited the ability to inform the public about the recommendation.
The recommendation came from a study by RW Consulting Group after a review of city operations. Citing Superior’s declining population and high costs for government operations and street maintenance, the report recommended changing the city’s form of government for operational improvements.
“It would accomplish a lot for our community … it’s time to move forward,” said Amanda Pierce who cast her ballot in favor of the proposal at Zion Lutheran Church.
Dillon Nelson, who also voted at Zion, said he didn’t vote on the proposal because he didn’t know enough about it.
About 5% of voters bypassed the question on the ballot all together.
However, Paine challenged the notion that hiring a city administrator would improve city operations or save taxpayers money. The report said the city could save about $50,000 through the improved efficiency.
A study by the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Wisconsin’s forms of government showed that a mayor-council form of government tended to be more expensive when an administrator was involved.
Paine said administrative changes made by the city have already helped improve efficiency, such as changing the role of the chief of staff, among others.
“We’ve been able to cut taxes and increase services under the elected model,” Paine said.
The cost for a nationwide administrator search would be about $10,000 and starting salary would be about $120,000, significantly more than the $85,000 starting salary for the mayor, Paine said.
“A mayor in a community this size has to put all of their time into it,” he said.
This story was updated at 11 a.m. Nov. 5 with comments from Dan Olson. It was originally posted at 3:50 p.m. Nov. 4.