CEDAR FALLS, Iowa --- The City Council will continue to debate a possible cost-saving measure that keeps the mayor’s position full-time but moves to a city manager-like government.
A month ago, a budget task force recommended transitioning to a part-time mayor in January 2016. Those talks remain tabled after a motion to bring the issue back to the floor was defeated 5-2 on Monday.
Councilmen Nick Taiber and Frank Darrah voted in favor, but the majority four of seven votes were needed to proceed.
Now the council is considering an alternative plan presented by Mayor Jon Crews that would better define the role of a full-time mayor and, like the original task force suggestion, creates a city administrator position to daily supervise the city’s departmental directors. That person would be directly accountable to the mayor.
In addition, the city’s administrative services division would undergo restructuring as part of a 24-month trial period. Employees would be placed in acting capacities to complete assigned duties: administrative services director Richard McAlister as acting city administrator; finance manager and city clerk Jennifer Rodenbeck, acting director of administrative services; deputy finance manager Lisa Roeding, acting finance manager; and deputy city clerk manager Jacque Danielsen, acting city clerk.
McAlister said a city administrator would have the authority to manage all departments and facilitate changes, the key difference from his current post.
“You get them to accomplish things that need to be done that the council’s looking for in terms of what your goals are or what you want accomplished for cost savings,” he said.
If the council would elect to continue that management system, acting employees could apply for permanent appointments.
Taiber, however, argued the concept “makes no sense.” He said a test run is a lack of total commitment.
“That sounds like moving chess pieces,” he said. “Just seeing if it feels good or right ... we’re just set up for failure here. This is a situation where you’re either all in or else you’re not at all.
“If nothing’s broken, why are we trying to fix it?” he asked. “I think we need to stay focused on cost reduction. That’s the No. 1 emergency.”
Crews pointed out that the task force has seen the submission, which earned support from two-thirds of the group.
He re-emphasized the city’s CEO should stay full-time. He noted the past several decades have seen only three mayors — himself, Doug Sharp and Ed Stachovic — and each has led major initiatives resulting in lasting positive benefits. Crews credited Stachovic with flood control and Sharp for his involvement with the metro area interstate highway substitution program.
“I think that’s what we should continue, both strong leadership and a strong professional staff,” he told the council during a committee meeting Monday.
Some council members felt the mayor discussion should not be combined with the city administrator approach.
“The question of a full- or part-time mayor I’m sure will come up sometime in the future, but I don’t see it coming out of committee for a long time,” councilman David Wieland said. “Now if we think we’re going to do a city administrator or a city manager to help us through the tight time, then being proactive is a good thing to do. When you look at the cost savings of being able to get some tough cost reductions in place that a city administrator is trained to do and take the politics out of it, it makes sense to separate the two.”
Councilwoman Mare Madsen Schmidt said she would like to see salary freezes or 5 percent pay cuts.
“That’s something a corporation would do,” she said. “I realize this is smaller than that, but still. That would be a lot less painful than a lot of other things.”