The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

June 3, 2013

THE HERALD'S OPINION: City officials must follow correct path to get where they want to go


The Herald

CLINTON — The interviews are completed, the open houses concluded.

And now with the information they have culled in front of them, Clinton City Council members must decide which, if either, of the two final candidates they will select to be Clinton’s next city administrator.

Their choices are City Finance Director Jessica Kinser, current interim city administrator – put in that role in January two months after the resignation of Jeff Horne – or Ben Benson, assistant city manager in Joliet, Ill.

We are hearing good things about both candidates, who late last week and early into this one, underwent a long interview process to get the council to this point in its decision-making process.

Throughout that work, we have called for a transparent, broadly informed approach by the council, and we want to congratulate council members on doing it in that manner. It was a much better process this time around – rather than in previous searches in which the council did most of the work alone -- as it gave a voice to business owners and key leaders in the community who served on an appointed committee to evaluate and pare the number of candidates down to the remaining two. The interviews were open for media coverage and the open houses for each candidate also were a nice touch.

On a final note, we would ask for one more thing from the council, and the city itself, as it moves forward to make that selection and begin working with their choice.

Whomever is selected, we would ask the council, the mayor, all those who play a role in overseeing the day-to-day operations of city hall, and the new hiree to make sure all of their roles are well-defined and adhered to as the will of the council is carried out and the city continues to work itself through some weighty issues.

Why do we say this?

From the outside looking in, it often appears that it could be very difficult to know who is and who should be running the show.

As it is laid out in the city charter, the mayor is to act as the chief executive officer of the city and presiding officer of the council and, except for the supervisory duties that have been delegated by law to the city administrator, supervise all city officers and departments. He or she has the authority to take command of the police and govern the city by proclamation, upon making a determination that a time of emergency or public danger exists. Within the city limits, the mayor has all the powers conferred upon the sheriff to suppress disorders, and whenever authorized by the council, is to sign contracts and documents on behalf of the city.

Among the council’s duties:

* Have fiscal authority. The council is to apportion and appropriate all funds, and audit and allow all bills, accounts, payrolls and claims and order payment thereof. It shall make all assessments for the cost of street improvements, sidewalks, sewers and other work and improvement or repairs that may be specially assessed;

* Make public improvements. The council shall make all orders for the doing of work, or the making

or construction of any improvements, bridges or buildings; and

* Make or authorize all contracts. No contract shall bind or be obligatory upon the city unless adopted by resolution of the council.

Also among those duties? The council shall appoint the city administrator and prescribe the administrator’s powers, duties, compensation and term of office.

That brings us to the responsibilities of the city administrator, and it is a list that contains many bullet points. According to the charter, the city administrator is the chief administrative officer of the city, may head one or more departments and is responsible to the council and mayor for the proper administration of all affairs of the city. To that end, the city administrator has the power and is required to do the following:

* Supervise enforcement and execution of city laws;

*Attend all meeting of the council and take part in the discussion of all matters coming before

the council. The city administrator is entitled to notice of all regular and special meetings of the

council;

* Recommend to the council the adoption of measures as deemed necessary or expedient for the

health, safety or welfare of the city or for the improvement of administrative services;

* Appoint and, when necessary for the good of the service, suspend, remove or discipline all

officers of the city except as otherwise provided by law or this code of ordinances and except authorizing the head of a department to appoint, suspend, remove or discipline subordinates in the department. The city administrator has the power to appoint and remove the following department heads subject to the approval of the council: Clerk, Fire Chief, Police Chief, Recreation Director, Public Works Director, Planning/Community Development Director, Director of Finance, Building and Neighborhood Services, City Planner, Engineering and Human Resources;

* Supervise the official conduct of all officers of the city. The city administrator is responsible

to the council for the performance of all department activities. All department heads, regardless of their

method of appointment, are responsible to the city administrator for the conduct of his or her

department;

* Direct and coordinate all city services provided through the various departments;

* Prepare and submit to the council for approval the necessary budget and be responsible for its

administration after adoption. A preliminary budget review with the council shall be held prior to

Nov. 1 for the next fiscal year; and

* Keep the mayor and council fully advised and informed concerning the operation of all aspects

of the city government, of the financial condition of the city and of the future needs of the city.

There’s more, but these are duties are the ones we want to focus on because when looking at this list, it is clear the city administrator oversees the department heads, the council spends money and has authority over projects that will benefit the city and the mayor leads the council as it does its work. The mayor does have a supervisory role, but it only applies to those offices that are not delegated to the city administrator, and looking at the list provided, the administrator has most, if not all, of that authority.

This flowchart, and how it is understood and applied by those who have a role, is very important because it defines not only the designation – and limits -- of power but also outlines the structure of responsibility, and in the end, accountability.

It also shows that communication on all sides is of utmost importance.

Why?

Because it is hard to get any job done if communication breaks down between the policy makers, the workers, those who have a say in where the money goes and the one, who with the stroke of a pen, can veto the work done by council members who may be acting on the advice of the person put in place to give it.

The city charter is posted on the city of Clinton website, open for all to read.

We hope everyone involved has read and understood it, because this city can only move forward if we are all on the same page.