ITHACA, NY – The bill to reorganize the city government of Ithaca from mayor-council to director-council was presented to the city’s administration committee at its June 23 meeting. While the public referendum will not take place until November 2022, the committee is working to get the plan approved by Council by the end of the year.
City attorney Ari Lavine said he wanted to make sure he was moving in the right direction as they worked on the language of the legislation.
Alderman George McGonigal asked if the council-manager format was the only one the committee had explored, or if he had considered changing the mayor’s role or increasing his salary.
Alderman Donna Fleming, who served on the subcommittee that worked on this issue, said they had looked at other options but believed the council director had fewer weaknesses.
“The alternative would have been to have a fully defined full-time mayor with a full-time salary who is the administrative director and political leader,” she said. “The weak point of this form is that you are most likely to have someone who does not have experience running a large organization with a large budget and many departments and facilities. This person is only responsible when there is an election.
She said hiring a city manager would allow council members to make sure they hire someone with the training and experience to run a large organization. The city manager would also be accountable to the common council on a daily basis.
“This is the main reason why we decided to advocate for this structure rather than strengthening the role of the mayor,” said Fleming.
Committee chair Deb Mohlenhoff added that this would not have solved the problem anyway.
“This job is too much for one person to handle,” she said. “It wouldn’t add to the overwhelming workload we put on that one person. “
In the proposed new system, the mayor would lead council meetings, appoint and oversee committees, cut the ribbon and act as a communication bridge between city staff and the town council.
Mohlenhoff said a simple way to think about it is that the mayor is the city’s external leader and the city manager is the internal leader.
“Both have executive leadership roles with the city,” she said.
A significant change would be for the mayor to become a voting member of council. Currently, the mayor only votes to break a tie. Another change would be that the city manager would work with the city comptroller to prepare the budget, as opposed to the mayor, who does it now.
McGonigal said if they made a difference, he would like the board to be more involved in the process of selecting committee members for things like the planning and development board.
“This would give the possibility of a more varied composition,” he said.
Mohlenhoff said possible changes are on the radar and they will review the appointment process to ensure proper verification and diversity.
Alderman Ducson Nguyen raised a concern of some voters, a concern with which he said he disagreed.
“We have received complaints that by diluting the power of the mayor, we are promulgating a takeover and removing the mayor’s responsibility from the voters,” he said. “The counter-argument is that we can fire the CEO at any time. “
Mohlenhoff said she understands the public may feel like they are becoming more and more separated from the city’s chief executive, but said the joint council provides the balance of power.
“We still have representative government,” she said, her point being that if residents thought the city manager was not doing a good job but the council was not firing them, they could always vote for the resignation of the city. these board members.
As the process continues, Mohlenhoff said they will also come up with a process for removal and hiring and firing criteria for the manager position.
Public hearings are scheduled on the subject this summer.