Yet another public debate is taking place where a degree in Early Childhood Education would be more useful than a Masters in Public Administration. The strong mayor-or-manager question is incredibly important, but one that is already mired in antics rather than substance.
So SRiQ is taking a different approach. Clearly, each form of local government has its merits and drawbacks. So we decided to step back and look at what’s happening.
What’s the Difference? – Small towns and really big cities usually have mayors, while middle-sized cities and counties have a manager-council form of government. In fact, cities usually go through different governing forms as they go from one stage to the next in terms of complexity and size.
Why a City Manager-Council Format? – This form of government is seen as an advantage for two reasons: (1) to diffuse political influence away from a single person and (2) to put a professional, trained manager in charge of running complex institutions. This model emerged for fast-growing cities and counties.
Why a Strong Mayor? – A strong mayor would assume the responsibilities of a manager: budgets, administration, and operations. Mayors tend to be in a better position to articulate and act on a vision, and there is a view that having one person in charge results in better accountability. As cities grow, one point person is helpful to manage the growing number of interest groups and constituencies. Strong mayor initiatives have been voted down twice by Sarasota voters.
Realities –The ultimate strength of the mayor lies in the details, such as the structure of veto power and talent. The switch from a professional manager to a political leader in Sarasota would require more of staff in terms of expertise and working across departments. This go-’round seems to be rooted in dissatisfaction with City Auditor/Clerk Pamela Nadalini on a host of issues, and the prospect that a new structure will settle questions about her actions.
In 2004, the magazine Governing ran a story on the Mayor-Manager Conundrum, noting:
“It [the city] can hire a manager to replace wasteful political patronage with non-partisan administration, but in doing that it gives up the benefits of having highly visible political leadership. Or it can choose a strong mayor, and get the leader it is looking for. But as often as not, that brings in an element of managerial cronyism and politically tainted policy decisions. Either way, something seems amiss.”
Bottom Line –
• No matter which form of government we pick, nothing’s perfect. In that case, we need to seek ways to cultivate effective champions among five Board members. If an elected mayor is chosen, then how can the influence of money and mega-stakeholders be neutralized?
• Even if the governing structure is up for grabs, one thing is clear: We won’t stand for anything less than professional governance. Whether it’s paying for signatures for a ballot measure (Turner) or submitting an eleventh-hour proposal (Caragiulo), these antics do nothing to advance a critical issue or Sarasota’s reputation.
• In the end, it might not be strong mayor or strong manager, but strong, even-keeled citizens who step back to ask really smart questions before doing anything.
What are your thoughts: Keep the current manager-council structure or go for a strong mayor? Use the comment field to opine away.