Archive for Thursday, June 26, 2003

Council upholds admin’s role in city

June 26, 2003

As the city of Eudora neared one year operating with a city administrator among its ranks, the position's role was brought into question by two Council members concerned with maintaining elected officials' roles in the city structure.

Council member Tom Pyle questioned a chain of command policy passed in October. By asserting city staff's command over city employees, Pyle said the policy discouraged elected officials and city workers from talking about city problems and tasks. Moreover, Pyle said he also thought workers were afraid to buy jerky from his meat market for fear it would draw criticism.

Pyle said Eudorans elected he and other council members, not an administrator. Feeling like power in the city was headed in one direction, Pyle prefaced his next statement by saying the words he would use might be harsh but he would use them anyway.

"I don't feel like we hired an administrator to be a dictator," he said.

Moreover, Pyle said the city had operated fine for years without such a policy in place.

"I think I've had good rapport with all the city employees throughout the years," he said.

Fellow Council member Scott Hopson concurred. A former city employee himself, the newly elected council member wanted to address city employees to tell them part of the reason he ran for office was because of them. Hopson said City Administrator Mike Yanez advised against doing so.

Yanez said that was because city employees may interpret the encounter such that they could go above their boss to Council members, especially with grievance issues, for which the city has a set procedure. The idea behind the chain of command, which includes the stipulation that department heads -- not elected officials -- should direct the assignments of city workers, was to create order and structure to make the city operate more smoothly.

For instance, if Council members noticed or had public complaints about a pothole, the city superintendent should be contacted rather than individual street department workers. Similarly, a parking problem should be taken to the chief of police, not an individual officer.

Yanez said he'd seen cities where workers were getting assignments from many different directions, and the results had been chaotic.

"An army with seven generals will not win many battles," he said.

Yet Yanez also acknowledged the role elected officials played in connecting with constituants.

"You people are the ears and eyes of the public," he said.

Council member Dan Gregg said he hadn't noticed problems with going to or directing citizens to the city administrator or department heads.

Hopson said he understood the need for structure within the city. In the past, said fellow Council member Don Durkin, things "had jumped around." Now, problems were taken to the city administrator.

But Pyle said that left him, as an elected official, feeling out of the loop when he wasn't told of issues in the city, such as that the police department needed to fill a spot left after a resignation.

"If I'm going to sit up here (on the Council), I should be notified," he said.

Council member Rex Burkhardt said the accepted system in Kansas cities was that city councils and commissions set policies, and city staff, including an administrator, enforced the policies and took care of the city's day-to-day operations.

With opinions on the Council split but the majority in favor of keeping the chain of command policy as is, Mayor Ron Conner said he didn't sense enough interest warranting a change in policy.

As the city approached the end of its first year with an administrator, Yanez said it was time for the Council and city to evaluate whether, in general, things in the city were better or worse than they had been a year earlier.

"We've made a lot of progress in the last year," he said.

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