(Los Alamitos, 9/19/2013) by “Highlands Guy:” From reading the latest entries at Let’s Fix Los Al, it appears that we are on the cusp of hiring a new City Manager.
Looking back over the last 5-10 years, I seem to remember that we’ve been through this process a bunch of times. Seems like it calls for a little look into what is a City Manager, why are they paid so much, and why is there so much turnover.
The 2012 ICMA Municipal Yearbook reflects nearly 10,000 Council-Manager forms of government in the US with a population of 2,500 or greater. More specific to us, there are 1,852 cities with a population between 10,000 and 24,000.
So, even as tiny as we are, there are lots of places of similar size, with the same form of governance.
When & why the job was created:
According to wikipedia.org, most sources trace the first city manager to Staunton, Virginia in 1908. The first “City Manager’s Association” meeting was in December 1914.
The job was created, in part, to remove city government from the power of the political parties and into the hands of an “outside expert.”
Ideally, the CM serves as the chief executive of the city government, oversees all city staff, and is responsible for directing the city’s bureaucracy.
The CM traditionally advises the council on their decisions but has no formal authority to vote on laws. And is ultimately responsible for carrying out the council’s wishes.
Turnover: Not just a Los Al problem
Thus, their most important constituency is the city council…not the citizenry. Thus the reality of their job security lies in pleasing a majority of the council. And this is important when you understand that the job usually pays over $100K/yr, but typically with a tenure of only 4-6 years.
This last sentence has impact to the city selection process. Since city councils are aware of the high turnover, a candidate will try to keep their interviews and availability “under cover” to remain in the good graces of their current bosses.
Prospective CMs may be on their way up in the size of the city and salary, or maybe have to leave a city due to personality conflicts with council members. Or perhaps they wanted to relocate, or want to increase their salary level in the last few years of service (with big impacts to their retirement numbers). Others may be near the end of their working life and want to hang around just a few more years.
I would offer that most of the above reasons are not necessarily positive reasons in the minds of city staff. Nor is the high turn-over rate fair to personnel that have put in years of hard work, trained and made the CM look good, and then had to do this again for the next person in the revolving door.
As the top appointed official in the city, the city manager is responsible for most if not all of the day-to-day administrative operations, in addition to other expectations that include, among others:
● Attend all city council meetings, but without voting privileges.
● Supervision of day-to-day operations of all city departments and staff, directly and
through department heads
● Oversight of all hiring, firing, and disciplining
● Preparation, monitoring, and execution of the city budget.
● Routine public relations responsibilities between the city and citizen stakeholders.
In addition to the basic required experience (5-7 yrs in an administrative post) and education (master’s degree in public administration) , the city manager should possess the ability to prepare budgets, have a working knowledge of the local tax environment, and possess accomplished communication and negotiation skills.
While it may not always be in their best interest, it is probably important to remain politically neutral.
The value of a new city manager may not be evident for a while, but there are a few indicators that can be used to evaluate their effectiveness.
I suggest the city council develop a performance evaluation sheet, fill it out, and discuss the outcomes annually. A few suggestions include:
- Anticipation and analysis to develop effective approaches for solving problems
- assists in facilitating decision making processes
- understands, and abides by local government’s laws and policies;
- offers alternatives for changes in a policy that is not practical;
- produce reports that are accurate, comprehensive, concise and written to the intended audience;
- responsive to requests from citizens;
- promotes training and development opportunities for employees at all levels
- encourages teamwork, innovation, and effective problems solving among the staff.
This is not comprehensive and could easily be expanded to 8 or 10 categories.
…And that’s the way I see it.
“Managing is getting paid for home runs that someone else hits”.
- Casey Stengel (1890-1975) Major League Baseball outfielder and manager. Baseball
Hall of Fame, 1966. Called the old “Perfessor” by colleagues, in the 1950’s