City Manager?

GLOVERSVILLE – City officials may look into the possibility of changing the city’s form of government from a mayor and council to a city manager and council.

The idea stemmed from a letter 1st Ward Councilwoman Robin Wentworth submitted to the council and mayor last week.

She said the idea has been brought up informally before, but she said now is a good time to talk about it formally.

“The world is changing,” Wentworth said. “The times of your neighbor being mayor may have served the city well for many years, but we are in a time where we need to have someone who is professionally trained to run the business of a $15 million operation. We need to look to the future.”

According to Wentworth’s letter, under the council-manager system, the city council, which can include the mayor, is the legislative body and an appointed city manager is the executive body.

She said the mayor would be a member of the city council and act as the chairman, and together with the council, would appoint a professionally trained city manager. The city manager would be responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations, proposing the city budget, setting the council agenda, appointing department heads and supervising employees.

Wentworth said in the letter this system of government removes politics from the administration of city business and promotes professional management.

Essentially, members of the council said, the new form of government would eliminate the councilman-at-large position and have the mayor take over those responsibilities. The change also would eliminate the commissioner of finance position because the manager would have the experience and education to handle that responsibility.

Wentworth said the manager would serve the council and could be removed at any time by a majority vote.

Wentworth said since the manager would be appointed by the council, there would be “better cooperation and sharing of information, whereas an elected mayor may often resist requests from the city council and may attempt to cut off or isolate the council from department heads, reports or other important city information.”

The change in the form of government the city uses can be accomplished two ways, Wentworth said.

The first can be done by passing a local law through the city council, subject to a public referendum. The second option is done by way of a petition signed by 10 percent of all registered voters and submitted to the council requesting the change, which also would be subject to a public referendum.

Mayor Dayton King, who’s position would shift to a figure-head type of role under the city manager form of government, said the change may not be the best solution for the city, but he is open to the discussion.

“I don’t know if a new manager coming in is going to really save the city any money,” King said. “I’m concerned it takes power away from the voters to elect who they want in the position to lead the city. If you give that power to the council, it goes from the choice of about 7,000 registered voters to the seven members of the council. I’m always open to new ideas, and we can talk about it, but I really don’t see it going anywhere.”

Second Ward Councilman Arthur Simonds said he doesn’t want to discuss the change.

“The mayor is one of the citizens of the community and a particular administrator doesn’t necessarily have to be a citizen nor have to have involvement with the city to run it,” he said. “I think this type of government would take away from that connection.”

King and Simonds said the cost of a city manager could be six figures.

However, Wentworth and Councilwoman Ellen Anadio said the reduction in the mayor’s pay and elimination of the commissioner of finance would make up for the cost.

“I think it’s a good idea to look into any new ideas that will help save the city money and move forward,” Councilman-at-large James Robinson said. “I’m not sure which way I would go, though, until I have all the information possible and we just started getting into that information.”

“I don’t think we should dismiss anything that can make the city more efficient and run better,” Councilman Wrandy Siarkowski said. “It’s a multi-million-dollar business when you think about it, and having someone with a business background operating the finances of the city doesn’t bring much downside. This is just the starting stage, and we all have to do our homework.”

In 2007, more than 3,500 of the 7,171 U.S. cities and towns with populations of 2,500 residents or more operated under the council-manager form of government, according to the International City/County Management Association.

Jason Molino, the city manager of Batavia, Genesee County, said he has been the manager of his city for eight years. He said he’s helped the city of just more than 15,000 people move forward and improve its financial situation.

Molino, who grew up in Johnstown, said the Batavia council is made up of nine elected officials, with three of them serving as councilmen-at-large. Every two years, the council appoints one of the three positions to serve as chairman. There is no position for a mayor under Batavia’s system, he said.

He said Batavia, much like Gloversville, experienced an industrial downfall years ago and had to overcome large deficits.

He said most city managers bring a master’s degree in business and public administration with a significant amount of managerial experience.

“You are getting someone who is a leader and has been a CEO of an organization of that size or bigger,” Molino said. “A city manager is going to bring knowledge of the operations to the table, whether it’s negotiating contracts or the leadership experience to make sure the department heads are doing their jobs. At the end of the day, you are getting an unbiased manager [who] is operating the city like a business and improves the processes.”

Jerry Faiella, executive director of the New York State City/County Management Association, said managers will often save cities money.

“[Elected officials] get into office because they have the vision of where they want the city to go,” he said. “The manager comes into play to run the day-to-day operation. The mayor and the board still set the policy and approve the budget, but the manager’s job is to carry it out. It doesn’t erode the authority at all, in my opinion.”