For the week of June 16, 1999  thru June 23, 1999  

If it ain’t broke . . .

In the world of cities, city administrators are the glue that hold city operations together. Under the director of a mayor, an administrator drafts the city budget, fields complaints, smooths communication among departments and solves problems for citizens.

Most small town government officials in Idaho would give a lot to have just a few hours of time from a good city administrator. Both Ketchum and Sun Valley streamlined their government operations a long time ago when they were finally able to hire professional city administrators.

Hailey Mayor Brad Siemer now wants to chuck the system and eliminate the city administrator’s position in Hailey, all in the name of saving money.

Siemer delivered the idea to the City Council this week as part of his budget package. He explained he’s trying to make the budget balance. However, he also proposed creation of a new management position, to be called "facilities and maintenance director."

The $44,000-a-year director will oversee City Hall, the city shop and parks and will develop a fleet management plan for all city vehicles, Siemer said.

Pardon us, if we’re a little confused, but the job looks a lot like a city administrator’s job. It also pays a lot like the city administrator’s job. It’s also confusing because the difference between the salary for the new position and the current administrator’s salary of $55,000 doesn’t seem like a budget buster.

Siemer explained that eliminating the job would bring city residents closer to the people who operate the city. It may, but is it necessary?

We’re not convinced residents really want to get closer.

Residents are usually satisfied if their city runs well and problems get solved. Mostly they don’t care who does the solving.

It’s a good bet that without a city administrator, a couple of things will happen. The part-time members of the city council and the part-time mayor will get a lot more phone calls at home. Members of the public will find themselves frustrated because they will have a more difficult time getting answers to all kinds of simple questions.

This in turn will lead to a high level of frustration with city government in general.

Ordinarily, tracking down information in any city can be a frustrating process. It’s worse in small towns when residents must track down department heads who are often out in the field doing their work. Administrators are usually easier to find and see public relations as part of their job.

Before eliminating the city administrator’s position, Siemer and the City Council need to offer a better explanation about what’s broke and how getting rid of the administrator will fix it.


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