Friday, May 12, 2006

Mayor or city manager?

Hailey voters asked to decide proposed government change


By JASON KAUFFMAN
Express Staff Writer

Throughout the vast state of Idaho, only three municipalities operate under a city manager-run form of city government rather than the more traditional mayor-run form of government.

Those Idaho cities are Lewiston, McCall and Twin Falls.

On May 23, Hailey voters will decide whether their city should join that short list as only the fourth municipality in the state to operate as a city manger-run city.

Approval of the measure requires only a simple majority of Hailey voters to vote yes on the matter.

A yes vote by Hailey residents wouldn't be the end of the story, however. Within 60 days of such a ballot measure being approved, a special election to select a new five-member City Council would have to take place. It would then be up to the new council to select and hire a city manager, who would take on the chief executive role formerly held by the mayor.

The city would continue to have a mayor, however, but that person would be appointed by the City Council from within their ranks and would mainly have only ceremonial duties.

The issue of whether to make such a significant change in Hailey's form of city government is the result of a concerted effort by one Hailey resident.

That individual, former Hailey Mayor Al Lindley, first announced his desire to see the matter considered by the Hailey City Council during a council meeting on Jan. 9. At that meeting, Lindley asked the council to consider making a resolution to place the matter on the ballot for an upcoming election.

A professionally trained city manager would bring a higher level of professionalism to the city's government, Lindley told the council.

Lindley's proposal came amid a history of competition with Mayor Susan McBryant, who took over as mayor when Lindley resigned in late 2002. The two later faced off in an ensuing mayoral election, which McBryant won.

In the end, council members considered Lindley's request, but decided against making such a motion.

The council's rejection of his proposal left Lindley with only one option—a citizen's initiative—for getting the issue on the Hailey ballot. By March 31 Lindley had successfully presented the required signatures needed to place the matter on the upcoming May 23 ballot.

McBryant objects to Lindley's assertion that a city manager is better equipped to oversee the operations of a city in a professional manner. "I think that's fairly closed-minded," McBryant said.

The critical issue being debated is leadership, she said, and whether or not city staff has clear direction from the city's leader.

"As mayor I am tasked with that leadership and I think our many successes in the past three years speak well for this administration and the current form of government," McBryant said. "Hailey is fortunate to have highly skilled department heads whose job descriptions include the management of their departments and staff."

The existing city government has successfully provided for the needs of its citizens, the mayor said. As such, a change in form of government is unnecessary, she said.

"How would a manager be better for the city? I don't know what that need is," she said. "What element of government hasn't been met?"

McBryant said she can itemize specific incidents that could have been handled better. "But progressive problems, indicative of a government that has failed, simply don't exist," she said.

McBryant said having a city administrator, without which the city has been operating, would equally serve the citizens of Hailey. She said the city is currently pursuing such an option and has set aside funds in the city budget to hire such a person.

City managers differ from city administrators—a position Hailey had from 1989 through 1999 and from late 2003 through 2004—in that administrators are hired and have their duties delegated to them by the mayor.

Lindley disagrees with McBryant's assertion that citizens are better served by having a mayor who can be held accountable for his or her campaign promises. In essence, the same can be said for a city manager, who is both appointed and can be recalled by the elected City Council, Lindley said.

One benefit of having a city manager running the day-to-day operations of the city is a more seamless sense of continuity in city operations, Lindley said. "It's a much more professional situation," he said.

Not only would the city's budget and personnel issues be managed better, but city ordinances that are currently going unenforced could be enforced better, Lindley said. "They don't follow through on them," he said.

Above all, Lindley said, a city manager would be separate from the day-to-day or year-to-year changes in political tides. Without those concerns, a city manager could focus more on the operations of the city, he said.

"Better discussion, better continuity, better communication."

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How to Vote

Polls for the May 23 Hailey elections will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the following locations:

· The Hailey Elementary School for residents in precincts 1,3 and 4.

· The Hailey Grange Hall for residents in precinct 2.

Those wishing to vote absentee can do by picking up an absentee ballot at the Blaine County election office or at the Hailey City Hall. Absentee ballots are also available online at Hailey's Web site at www.haileycityhall.org. The deadline for completing absentee ballots is 5 p.m. Monday, May 22.




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