City Manager, City Administrator, viva la difference

By Deb McCaslin,Chief Publisher I learned something this week – something I should have known before but didn’t, and thank Corrinne Peterson, from the Nebraska Municipal Power Pool, for giving a call and providing the necessary educational materials. See, you can teach old dogs new tricks. It seems the terms city manager and city administrator are not interchangeable, and I’ve been using the terms interchangeably. The council just appointed a new city administrator and I used the term manager in a headline last week and later in the article. The nomenclature city manager was incorrectly used. I was confused, no, not so much confused as incorrectly informed, so thought I’d use this space to set us both straight … me as the writer and you as the reader. According to Corrinne, we used to have a city administrator who went by the term city manager, but that too was incorrectly used. The correct term for the position before, is the same term or title that should be used for the person recently hired … city administrator. The basic scope of the jobs are outlined by our state legislature. You see how our cities and villages operate is vetted in history, and it is Lincoln who puts it on paper. And to figure all this out, you have to first zero in on which form of government your community uses to operate. Broken Bow is classified as a second class city (population 801-5,000). This doesn’t mean it’s second rate, the second class term here strictly refers to population. Within this class we have four forms of government authorized by state law: 1) village; 2) Mayor-Council; 3) City Manger; 4) Commission. And if your community drops below the population window, you get to keep the title, second class. We operate under the mayor-council form of government. As a second class city, we are required to operate under this form of government (or so says the literature sent to me by my friend Corrinne), unless taken to a vote of the people. The change to either the city manager form of government, or commission form of government can only be made at the ballot box. In Nebraska, under a city manager government, citizens are elected to the council, and then the council chooses one of their own members as president and ex officio mayor. The council also chooses a city manager who exercises the powers the mayor of a mayor/council form of government has at hand. And as Corrinne explained, the city manager takes care of appointments such as police chief and appointments to public boards. He or she also has the right to hire and fire. In a commission form of government, council members are elected to specific functional positions, such as head of the parks board or head of public utilities, and the mayor is the one who is elected as superintendent or commissioner of public affairs. Corrinne mentioned that Nebraska City has that type of government. The governing body under a mayor/council form of government, like ours is comprised of a mayor elected at large and 4-12 council members elected either by wards or at large. In Broken Bow we elect 4 council persons, two from each ward. The mayor’s duties include presiding over the city council meetings and voting whenever the council is equally divided. The mayor may veto, or refuse to sign into law an ordinance passed by the council, and the council has the right to over-ride his/her veto with a 2/3 vote of the council. It is also the job of the mayor to make necessary appointments, such as chief of police, attorney, utility superintendent, fire chief, et al., with councils consent. The mayor also has the authority to remove the same individuals he/she appoints from office. This is a distinct difference. In a city manager form of government the city manager has the right to hire and fire and in a mayor/council form of government it is the mayor who does the hiring and firing. This doesn’t mean the council isn’t brought into the discussion, it just means that in a mayor/council government, the buck stops with the top dog. To conclude – we will have a city administrator as David Varley assumes his new job in January, and I apologize for having mixed up the terms. And now it’s time I add the disclaimer … I found reading over the League of Municipality descriptions of the jobs of our elected officials really interesting, but also complicated. (They go on forever, and provide the necessary guidelines for specific tasks.) but I’d like to add it’s a good thing we have a lawyer on retainer to keep us on the straight and narrow. I remember when Jason White first stepped into the city attorney shoes and he said that Carlos Schaper’s background in city government as a former city attorney would be very valuable. Institutional knowledge is hard to replace. And finally, to our elected officials, be it the mayor, council members, school board members …and to those who accept the appointments, park board, air port authority, utility board … You have a huge job resting on your shoulders and in our neck of the woods those who sit in those chairs and give of their time are most often volunteers, so thank you! Thank you for the hours and hours and hours of time you spend away from your families and away from your jobs sorting out the details making sure our community stays on track for success in our tomorrow.