City manager power likely to increase

Posted 6/16/10

Centennial’s city manager is poised to accept greater responsibilities. The elected city council is expected to approve an ordinance that would …

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City manager power likely to increase


Centennial’s city manager is poised to accept greater responsibilities. The elected city council is expected to approve an ordinance that would cede some of its authority to the appointed managerial position.

The proposed changes would allow the city manager to unilaterally approve public-works and capital-improvement contracts and expenditures up to $300,000. The manager’s spending would be capped at $150,000 for other purchases made within bounds of the council-approved annual budget.

By contrast, under an ordinance that is currently in place, the city manager cannot single-handedly make any city financial commitments exceeding $30,000.

According to a report filed for the council by City Manager Jacque Wedding-Scott’s staff, the current system has slowed city efficiencies while burdening the council’s meeting agendas. Recent organizational changes have also contributed to the problem, the report says.

“The meetings are beginning to grow a little bit longer and longer,” Assistant City Manager Mike Connor told the council on June 7. “So we are looking to focus the items that will go to council as … policy-related or required by other provisions of the municipal code.”

Under Centennial’s current system limiting the manager’s authority, many proposed expenditures have taken several months of meetings and procedural votes before they received approval from the nine-member council, Connor’s report says.

The proposed ordinance would authorize the city manager to unilaterally set Centennial’s personnel, administrative and purchasing policies, which must now be approved by council vote.

The city manager would also have the authority to enter into contracts with other local governments when the cost to the city is less than $100,000 and the duration of the intergovernmental agreement is six months or less.

There would also be distinct limits to the city manager’s power. The position could not approve the annual budget, establish mill levies for taxation, sell significant city property, issue bonds, incur debt or acquire legal services on behalf of the city.

Some councilmembers have been hesitant about expanding the manager’s authority too broadly. Mayor Cathy Noon, the city’s top elected leader, has been concerned about empowering the unelected manager’s ability in some key areas.

“There are certain personnel policies that can be very politically charged and so the ramifications would come back on us as councilmembers,” she said at the recent council meeting.

According to Noon, another example of an issue better legislated by council than decided by staff was Centennial’s recent and controversial council-approved effort to mitigate urban coyotes.

“That was a huge policy issue for our citizens,” the mayor said.

District 3 Councilmember Rebecca McClellan said she is uncomfortable with increasing the city manager’s spending authority.

“I’m not hearing from the public that they want us to take the foot away from the brake pedal when it comes to spending,” she said. “I think, if anything, they want [the council] to take responsibility to look very closely at what we’re spending.”

Some councilmembers have largely dismissed such concerns, saying the council should act more like a corporate board of directors and entrust their top manager with responsibility and clear expectations. Communication is key, they say.

“If the city manager doesn’t do what the city council wants done, then we have a chat with the city manager,” District 1’s Vorry Moon told colleagues. “If the chat doesn’t work, then we have a chat with the new city manager.”

The proposed changes are in part a response to the Centennial Home-Rule Charter passed by voters in 2008. The document codified what had become the city’s effective council-manager form of government with some alterations.

Prior to passage of the charter, 9-year-old Centennial technically operated under a strong mayor system. For a time, founding Mayor Randy Pye essentially served as the acting city manager until the council opted to hire a full-time city manager.

The voter-approved charter requires that a separate city manager serve as Centennial’s chief administrative officer and answer to the council. Wedding-Scott has served in the position since 2007.

The council will take a final vote on the proposed ordinance this summer.


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