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Sarasota Thursday, Sep. 2, 2010 7 years ago

Turner wants to shift more power to manager

by: Robin Roy City Editor

In an effort to get city commissioners to focus on policy and to create clearer lines of authority, Commissioner Terry Turner has proposed a series of changes inside City Hall, including forbidding commissioners from directing city staff and making the city attorney and city auditor and clerk answerable to the city manager.

Turner said he wants to put more control in the city manager’s office because of the relative inexperience of city commissioners.

“Since 1989, 22 candidates have been elected to the City Commission,” he said. “Of those candidates, 68% served (one term) or less. For the current commission, 80% have served (one term) or less.”

Turner believes that inexperience in government affairs has led to commissioners not knowing and not respecting the separation between policy-making, which the commission is supposed to do, and operations management, which is the city manager’s job.

He says in the past, commissioners have directed city staff to perform a task or function, such as researching ordinances and reporting back to the commission. That is against the charter.

“Government is complicated,” said Turner. “You wouldn’t put on a corporate board someone who has no experience in the business world.”

Turner is proposing new language in the charter that makes it clear the mayor is not an executive office, and the mayor should not encroach on the responsibilities of the city manager.

Prohibiting an individual commissioner to give an order to any city employee and prohibiting any employee from carrying out an order by a commissioner is another addition Turner would like to see made.

City commissioners would no longer be able to have a say in whom the city manager, city attorney or city auditor and clerk hires or fires.

Another proposed change is that the city manager, not the commission, would appoint and manage the city attorney and city auditor and clerk.

Previously, those two posts were seen as checks and balances to the city manager, just as the federal government has the executive, judicial and legislative branches.

“Three staff people are now reporting to five (commissioners),” said Turner. “It’s better to have just one person reporting to five.”

According to the Florida League of Cities, about 60% of the state’s cities and towns require all city employees report to the city manager.

Turner said he had no concerns about a loss of checks and balances.

Under the commissioner’s proposal, it would be more difficult to fire the city manager.

Currently, a simple majority of the commission could dismiss the city manager in a meeting. Turner would like that changed to a supermajority at one meeting or a simple majority at two consecutive meetings.

“That eliminates a heat-of-the-moment vote,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a personnel matter, it’s better to avoid the heat of the moment.”

And, as for the current practice of commissioners appointing themselves mayor each year, Turner believes it should be retired.

“The current system of rotating the mayor among (commissioners) may gratify the ego of some,” said Turner. “(But) it does not benefit the people.”

Instead, he favors a directly-elected mayor who would serve a term of at least two years and possibly four years.

“(The current system) does nothing to facilitate the emergence of a mayor who could provide effective policy leadership,” Turner said. “Since 1989, 13 commissioners have served as mayor; nine of them served as mayor for a single one-year term.”

Turner is hoping the Charter Review Committee will accept his recommended changes. The City Commission then would vote to place the matter on the ballot.

Mayor Kelly Kirschner voiced displeasure with the proposed changes.

“We already have a city manager with a significant amount of power,” he said. “For the city attorney and auditor, it’s critical those functions remain independent.”

City Manager Bob Bartolotta said he was neutral about the proposals.

“Whatever they decide to do is good enough for me,” he said. “I don’t have an opinion one way or another.”

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