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Common Council will vote on legislation to change the City Charter in 2021. In November 2022 the voters will vote on a referendum. If the change is approved, the search for a manager would begin in 2023, with the goal of having our first City Manager in office on 1 January 2024.
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A full-time City Manager would have the education and experience required to administer the city’s operations. The City Manager would have expertise in managing departments and preparing budgets. A professional manager who understands how to motivate and evaluate staff would make the city more responsive to the citizens and would better enable us to hire and retain highly qualified people.
An elected Mayor may or may not know how to manage a complex organization or even be interested in overseeing day-to-day operations of the city. Mayors are elected based on their ideas and visions rather than their administrative skills.
Ithaca’s mayor is expected to be the chief executive officer of the City as well as the legislative, political, and ceremonial leader. There are too many responsibilities for one person and they demand different kinds of talents.The Chief of Staff is hired by and reports to the Mayor and serves as the chief administrative office. But any authority that the Chief of Staff has, such as supervising department heads, is delegated by the Mayor, which creates confusion about who has true authority to make decisions. This is especially true when a Mayor does not give clear or consistent direction to the Chief of Staff. An appointed City Manager is neutral politically and will ensure that the policies created by Common Council and the Mayor are implemented.
Every mayor of Ithaca for the past twenty years has advocated for a significant change in the structure of city government, as the current system cannot provide the citizens of Ithaca the level of service they want and deserve.
To the contrary; this will strengthen the power of voters, as it further empowers all members of Common Council, who will have direct oversight over and the power to dismiss the City Manager. Currently the Chief Executive is held accountable by voters only once every four years, and then only if there is a viable challenger running for Mayor.
Voters will continue to choose the Mayor, who in the new system will be a full voting member of Common Council; currently the Mayor only votes when there is tie. The Mayor and Council will still be responsible for making laws, setting direction and policy, and determining the financial priorities for the City, which the City Manager will respect.
With salary and benefits the Mayor, the Mayor’s executive assistant, and the Chief of Staff cost the City approximately $213,000. Under the new structure, the full-time City Manager will earn a bit more than the Chief of Staff and the Mayor will earn slightly less than the current Mayor.
With a full-time executive assistant to the City Manager the total cost would be approximately the same. And because the City Manager is a professional manager, the City will become more efficient in its operations in the long run.
For comparison, note that Tompkins County pays an Administrator, two deputy administrators, and an executive assistant $655,500 per year to oversee its budget of approximately $190M, and 750 employees in 31 departments serving 105,000 residents.
The chart below summarizes the Mayor’s major duties under the current code, and charter and how they will change in the new system:
Lead the development of policy
Appoint boards and committees
Preside over Common Council meetings
Serve as Chief Executive Officer of the City
Supervise department heads
Negotiate with labor unions
Develop and present annual budget
Appoint City Attorney
City Manager with consent of Common Council
Chair the capital budget committee
Represent the City to other levels of government
Shared responsibility between City Manager and Mayor
Make an annual “State of the City” address about accomplishments and goals
Serve as ceremonial leader of the City: attend ribbon cuttings, address the public in times of crisis; represent the City in celebrations
According to the International City/Council Management Association: "More than 120 million people in the USA live in municipalities that operate under the council-manager form. Fifty-four percent of the more than 4,300 US municipalities with populations of 10,000 or more use the form, as do 59% of the 347 municipalities with populations greater than 100,000. More than 800 counties also employ a similar system.” The practice of hiring professional managers became a popular element of reform agendas during the progressive era, over 100 years ago, as a means to stop corruption, favoritism, and nepotism and to promote efficiency within local governments.
In interviews with Mayors of six cities in New York with this form of government, we heard very positive comments about their experiences.
Tompkins County has had a County Administrator form of government since 1970, though they refer to their chief executive as the County Administrator.
Common Council will develop a procedure, based on best practices, for reviewing the City Manager annually. As the elected leader who will work most closely with the City Manager the Mayor will play a key role in these annual evaluations.
The City Manager may serve at the pleasure of Common Council or have a contract with a 4-5 year term and a clause allowing Common Council to terminate the contract with a super-majority.
It would certainly be necessary to have a designated deputy to serve as City Manager during vacations, incapacitation, or in the event of the City Manager’s termination or resignation. For an organization the size of the City of Ithaca, it is reasonable to have a deputy City Manager, appointed by the City Manager with the approval of Common Council, to assist in managing the city.