The next city election isn’t until May, but people already are thinking about what kind of person they might want to be the next mayor. Man? Woman? Young? Older?
What about strong?
Not strong as in weight-lifting or Wheaties-eating, or strong just in personality or resolve. REALLY strong, as in someone who would manage the day-to-day operations of the city — and get paid a salary to do it.
A city administrator, in other words. Only elected.
“I thought the mayor's job was to be exactly that,” City Councilman Tom Osborn said at Monday night's council meeting. He proposed that the council consider that option. He didn't use the term “strong-mayor” form of government, but that's what it essentially is.
The mayor's job should be a paid position, Osborn believes, and the mayor should work six to eight hours a day, keep the city council informed on a weekly basis and keep track of all the important things going on in the city.
“This would make them responsible to the electorate,” Osborn said.
It sounds good in theory. Well, to some folks in the audience it didn't sound that good. One told me the idea sounded “goofy.”
But in recent years there's been a resurgence of interest in the strong-mayor form of government for the same reasons Osborn used.
Still, only 10 Texas cities have a strong-mayor system. The most popular form of government still is council-manager. In Glen Rose, the city council makes the decisions and the mayor only votes in case of a tie.
Right now Glen Rose is without a mayor since Pam Miller resigned last fall to pursue the Oakdale Park manager position. Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Martin has been presiding over council meetings. Its members decided to leave the top slot vacant until the May elections.
According to the Handbook of Municipal Bonds — as exciting a read as you'll ever get — the strong-major model emerged in Galveston in 1901 after a tidal wave devastated the city. With its government and other institutions in shambles, Galveston put together a commission headed by one person who helped the city get back on its feet.
Moreover, if the council appointed an administrator and didn’t like the person, he or she could be fired immediately. If a strong-mayor was not performing well, it could be years before the person could be voted out.
Critics of the system also say lacks the checks and balances of having a separation between policymakers and administrators.
Galveston last year considered switching to a strong mayor form of government. But that movement was not successful and its city government remains the council-manager form.
The whole idea behind the council-mayor and council-manager form of city government is to balance legislative (council), executive (mayor) and judicial (municipal courts) branches. Cities that have a manager or administrator in essence have a chief executive officer.
Ironically, the discussion about switching to a strong-mayor form of government to be more accountable and responsive overlooks the fact that more than 100 tax-paying citizens last year signed a petition asking the city to appoint an administrator. Mayor Miller steadfastly opposed that and it didn't fly with the majority of the council. Now it looks like the $60,000 that remains in the city budget for the position will be spent for other things.
Perhaps a strong-mayor system would work in some towns, but the problem is finding the exact right person. Considering how elections go in this town, with city officials getting elected by less than 100 votes, would voters elect the right person? And if it wasn't the right person, would that strong mayor be around for two years? At least with a city administrator, who serves at the pleasure of the council, that person can be fired at will.
We've already had one mayor that tried to concentrate power in the hands of family members. I shudder to think what might happen if voters chose the wrong person and the strong mayor turned into the Incredible Hulk. We'll all have to eat a bunch of Power Bars in order to get through council meetings.