Archive for Wednesday, January 11, 2006

City council debate: Who’s in charge?

Questions surround whether mayor or administrator responsible for city workers

January 11, 2006

The debate over whether the Tonganoxie city administrator or the mayor is responsible for personnel continued at Monday night's city council meeting.

The question boils down to: Is the city administrator or the mayor in charge?

While the question wasn't answered after about 30 minutes of discussion, it's clear the council is divided on the issue. A month ago, the council addressed the topic, and at that time didn't reach consensus.

In December, City Administrator Mike Yanez proposed a new ordinance that would broaden his power to supervise city employees, including department heads. Yanez said city ordinances and the administrator's job description differ on whether the mayor or the administrator is in charge of department heads.

"It seems we do need to clarify who gives direction, one way or another," council member Jim Truesdell said Monday night.

On Monday, council member Ron Cranor said he is reluctant to make a change.

"There may come a day when a new mayor may need those powers," Cranor said. "I believe in keeping powers split up a little bit."

And city council member Velda Roberts said she favors changing job descriptions to narrow the administrator's powers, rather than limiting those powers of the mayor or the council.

"I have no qualms with what you've done, Mike," Roberts said. "That's not the issue here."

But she noted Yanez had been on the job for less than a year.

"I think that is too quick for anybody to all of the sudden have the type of authority this document would give in hiring and firing and those issues relating to the employment and the day-to-day operations of the city. ... I could, at some time, be convinced the city administrator could have the authority to hire, with the exception of department heads."

She said she sees the administrator as a "coordinator," but the ultimate authority rests with the council and mayor. And Roberts said she's concerned the city council would open itself up to potential legal problems from an employee that the city administrator might fire.

"I don't think any one person should have the authority to discharge an employee," she said. "If the city administrator fires somebody, the mayor, the governing body is responsible. We don't have a say in it. But we are responsible."

Council member Steve Gumm said the issue is: Whom should department heads report to -- the city administrator or the mayor. The answer is not clear, Gumm said.

"Who's my boss? Who tells me what to do? Is it the mayor or the city administrator?" Gumm said.

"The mayor, with the consent and approval of the council," Roberts said.

Council member Jason Ward, an attorney, said he understands concerns about firing employees.

"I can see how we would want to maintain some of that power to take care of that liability," he said. "The ability to hire, on the other hand, there's no question the city administrator is in the best position to evaluate what the needs are and make a decision. ... We need to have some consistency."

Gumm agreed, saying, "We need to clarify for our employees' benefit: Who do I report to. If I have two people telling me what to do, which one's right? There should be clarification as to who is your boss."

Roberts said she believes that in the past, the mayor has been kept out of the loop.

"If the mayor has responsibility, then he should know what is going on," she said.

"If the mayor needs to know what's going on, he needs to get that information through the city administrator, not the department heads," Ward said.

Council members decided to confer with the city attorney before attempting any changes.

"The gist of it is: We can't have two people trying to be the boss," Gumm said. "We need to decide who has the authority: the mayor or the city administrator."

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