Archive for Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Council divided over administrator’s authority

December 14, 2005

When it comes to personnel issues, at what point do the Tonganoxie city administrator's powers stop and the city council members' begin?

That's a question that Tonganoxie City Council members on Monday grappled with, but didn't reach consensus.

City Administrator Mike Yanez had proposed a new ordinance to council members that broadened his power to supervise city employees, including department heads. Yanez said a conflict exists between city ordinances and the administrator's job description concerning who is in charge of department heads.

"The real crux of the problem is: To whom do department heads report and who directs department heads," Yanez said.

City council member Jim Truesdell said he believes the city administrator should handle that job. And two other council members -- Jason Ward and Steve Gumm -- agreed.

"I think the council can get a picture of how we're dealing with words that conflict or are confusing," Yanez said. "So we're just trying to clean this up."

Truesdell said he believes Yanez should handle day-to-day personnel issues.

"Either way, we've got to trust him, whether he comes to us and makes recommendations or whether he makes the decisions on a daily basis," Truesdell said.

"I think that's what we've been doing," said council member Velda Roberts.

But Yanez said, "I think there's a conflict of authority."

The council agreed to ask city attorney Mike Kelly to review state law to determine what steps the city can take.

Ward said he thinks the council should allow Yanez to have more authority over department heads.

"I like it because it clears the water and empowers our city administrator to do his job," Ward said of Yanez's proposal to change the city ordinance.

The existing ordinance dates back to 1989, city staffers said, and Gumm said the city council has more experience with an administrator now that it did at that time.

"You can understand, at the beginning, not wanting to relinquish some of the duties to someone unfamiliar with the position," Gumm said.

Roberts said she wasn't sure the council should give up any power.

"We are giving up a lot of ability of the governing body to have a say in what happens in personnel," she said.

And council member Ron Cranor said he's not detected any overriding personnel problems in the city.

"I haven't particularly noted that we have all of these problems that we're alluding to," he said. "Maybe we're acting with too much haste."

But Ward said he believes a trained, professional administrator better knows how to handle all personnel than elected officials do.

"I have no idea what some of our city employees do day to day," he said. "It's impossible for me to know that. I have to rely on what the city administrator tells me."

Another change the council contemplated -- but took no action on -- is increasing the amount of money the city administrator can spend without prior council approval.

"You want permission to spend $5,000?" Mayor Dave Taylor asked.

Currently, for purchases of more than $1,000, Yanez must receive permission from council members -- and sometimes the administrator must get in touch with council members outside regular meetings to obtain permission.

"We have to think that this isn't our money," Taylor said. "It's the taxpayers'. ... I have no problem with the city staff coming to the council for more money. ... We represent the citizens. It's their money."

"So does he," Ward said of Yanez. ''... The bottom line is: We're still going to review the purchases. It's still our duty to ensure that they're being made properly, regardless of what the amount is."

Roberts said she would have no problem increasing the threshold to $3,000.

The council will resume its discussion of the personnel and spending issues once Kelly reviews the law.

In other matters Monday, the council:

  • Agreed that Yanez should accompany several other Leavenworth County representatives to Washington, D.C., in January to lobby U.S. House and Senate members for funds to finance road projects. The trip is being organized by Leavenworth Area Development, a countywide economic development organization. The city will pay Yanez's job-related expenses on the trip.
  • Added discussion of road projects -- in particular, a proposed interchange on the Kansas Turnpike at Leavenworth County Road 1 -- to the agenda for a work session slated for 7 p.m. next Monday at city hall. The council also will discuss the city's pay plan at the session.
  • Played Santa Claus to city employees. Traditionally, council members award Christmas gifts of $50 to full-time and $25 to part-time employees. The council was poised to do that Monday night, but Ward suggested increasing that amount because the city does have funds in its budget to handle an increase. "In the business world, they change every year," Ward said. So the council voted, 5-0, to give $75 to all full-time employees, $50 to part-time employees and $25 gift certificates to B&J Country Mart to volunteer and part-time firefighters.
  • Renewed the city's membership in the League of Kansas Municipalities. The city's 2006 dues are $1,670. Last year, the city paid $1,506; in 2004, dues were $1,406; in 2003, dues were $1,233; and in 2002, the city paid $1,143 to the league.
  • Approved cereal malt beverage licenses to Casey's General Store and Trans Kan Investment, which operates the Conoco station, 420 Stone Creek Dr.

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