15 Sep 2014
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City Manager Government Reform Draws Debate

New Baltimore City Council voted Monday night to direct the city attorney to draft proposal language for a city charter revision that is expected to go before voters this summer.

City Manager Government Reform Draws Debate

New Baltimore inched closer Monday to paving way for a city charter revision that could ultimately lead to creating a new form of government.

City Council voted to direct the attorney to draft proposal language that is expected to go on the August ballot, asking whether the city should revise its charter. If approved, that could eventually lead to the placement of a city manager in the charter—moving away from a strong-mayor form of government. Voters would ultimately decide whether they want a city manager to spearhead operations.

Some officials and residents in the community want a city manager because they say it's a more effective form of local government. Meanwhile, others question why the topic is coming up at all.

Mayor criticizes city manager position

"It just appears that a lot of this is being done as a personal affront towards me and I don't know why that is," New Baltimore Mayor Larry Smith said after the meeting.

Smith pointed out to council during the meeting that he makes approximately $40,000 in his full-time role—the lowest of city department heads—and does not receive benefits. A city manager for a community of this size, he said, makes about $95,000 annually with a benefit package alone that costs the same as his yearly salary, he said.

"I can't see where it's going to be a less expensive form of government," said Smith, noting he typically works 60 hours a week. "I think we have to put out the proper information."

He also pointed to a healthy budget and .

"The auditors have stated numerous times that this is probably one of the best-run cities in Michigan," he said.

Citizen committee sees benefits of city manager

The Citizens Advisory Committee, comprising 10 active residents, stated during the meeting that it favored bringing on a city manager after scrutinizing the charter commission. It also wants to update inaccurate or outdated language in the charter.

"The mayor has a lot of power over the six other people who are elected and this isn't any reflection of anyone individual," said Laurie Huff, longtime resident and committee member.

Huff added that the current administration has done a fine job, but that the city needs to think about future elected leaders as well.

New Citizens Advisory Committee member Stan Russell said "to be fair, it's a new topic at this point ... I will definitely look at both sides."

Voters have final say

Creating a city manager position in New Baltimore would be a lengthy process.

Five percent of registered voters in the city must sign a petition expressing their wish for one or a council majority would have to vote to place charter revision language on the August ballot, which was done at the last meeting. Then, ballot language and proposals to revise the charter commission, circa early 1970s, would need voter approval, a charter commission could be elected as soon November, among other steps. At the earliest, a city manager could be hired in summer 2013, said Councilman . 

That person would be a non-elected official overseeing daily city operations and providing continuity for all departments. He or she would work alongside the mayor, who is a full-time elected official.

Stanton said that many residents have told him they would like to see the city manager position created to help offset turnover from termed elected officials.

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