Seven Hills Should Consider A City Manager Form Of Government

Seven Hills city council is considering a charter amendment for the May ballot to expand the mayor’s position to fulltime with a substantial salary increase and benefits package beginning in the next term on December 10, 2019. While I agree that the increasing complexities of serving as the city's CEO clearly demand a full time administrator, I have asked Council to instead ask the voters to convert to a city manager form of government, rather than to a full time mayor. Here are just a few of my reasons.

In the city manager form of city government, the council makes laws and policy decisions for the manager and directors to carry out. The city manager oversees the operation of the city and serves as the chief advisor to the city council. Every city employee answers to the city manager, so the manager has the right to hire and fire staff as appropriate and allowable by law. Ultimately, the city manager is answerable to the council.

Council would be able to hire a non-political manager, with appropriate credentials and experience, to operate the city. This change would also promote ethical behavior by fostering professionalism, transparency, and accountability by separating politics from city management. 

As their chief policy advisor, the city manager makes recommendations to council. If the manager is not responsive to council, they have the authority to terminate the manager at any time. Under this proposal, the city could continue with a part time mayor as the ceremonial leader of the city and other functions, including a voice on Council. 

Seven Hills has operated with very low expenses over the years, resulting in serious operational challenges. Many positions have been unfilled or reduced to part time or lowered salaries, impacting delivery of services. This includes having no Human Resources Director or Economic Development Director for years. These highly compensated unfilled positions and important functions could be merged into the city manager position. This would combine three directors' salaries into one much lower salary, saving money and increasing efficiency. 

It is important to have competent professional full time administration to protect the city’s fiscal stability, especially as Seven Hills continues to cut expenses. Although large tax increases were passed last November, these will only be a short term answer, especially if the voters fail to renew the refuse levy next year and the city falls back again. This is also why council’s idea to borrow $3 Million this year is so risky. 

After several years of cutting large losses at the Recreation Center and even making a small profit in 2015, it lost money again in 2016. One of the Rockside Road projects touted last year as bringing new tax dollars to the city (but proceeding so far without a signed development agreement to more fully control the developer’s plans) now appears to be smaller than advertised back then. The city manager form of government can more effectively meet issues like these and deliver more beneficial results for the city by emphasizing professionalism, qualifications and performance, rather than politics. And the pool of possible candidates for the position is not limited to residents. 

Moreover, this form of government encourages better communication between the residents and city government policy makers. It provides the wards and neighborhoods with a greater opportunity to influence policy. The influence of outside special interest groups, vendors, developers, and contractors is reduced so that all interests can be equally considered and not just those that are well funded. 

The proposed charter amendment to make the mayor full time with an increased salary was brought up in council with little advance deliberation. It represents a very complex major change to the way Seven Hills operates since it was founded. Any change will affect the city for decades into the future and it deserves more careful thought than it has been given to date, along with fully considering other alternatives like the city manager form of government. 

Richard Dell'Aquila

Mayor of Seven Hills

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Volume 9, Issue 2, Posted 11:22 PM, 03.01.2017