Warner Robins council mulls adding city manager

chwright@macon.comFebruary 13, 2013 

  • Council-manager form of government

    • As city government has become more complex, it stresses professionalism, with administrators chosen on the basis of competence.
    • Municipal administration is segregated from city politics.
    • The city manager gives expert advice to council, resulting in maximum efficiency and economy.
    • The city manager, as an appointed expert, can provide more impartial judgment than can the council.

    Cons • An appointed city manager is less responsive. Most large American cities with a population of over 1 million have a politically elected chief executive.
    • Policy rarely can be separated from its implementation and management.
    • The council still has ties to the municipal bureaucracy, and potential liabilities may outweigh the savings in cost recommended by the manager.
    • The manager may lack political sensitivity, and if there is an elected mayor, the roles of the managers and mayor may be ambiguous.

    Source: The Handbook for Georgia Mayors and Councilmembers: 5th Edition

WARNER ROBINS -- A change to Warner Robins’ government structure could help the city function more efficiently, some council members say.

Councilman Mike Brashear, backed by council members Carolyn Robbins and Mike Daley, is proposing to change the city charter to include a city manager responsible for day-to-day operations. But councilmen Mike Davis and Daron Lee say they are against the idea, and Mayor Chuck Shaheen disagreed with the type of managerial role proposed.

“I can’t say I agree with the council because they want to change the charter so the mayor is not the CEO of the city,” Shaheen said Wednesday.

Councilman Paul Shealy could not be reached for comment.

Brashear said the council is setting up public hearings for next week and the following week to seek residents’ opinions. If the council decides to move forward, Brashear said he would like to get the legislature’s approval before the mayoral election in November.

Warner Robins, like most Georgia cities, has a hybrid form of government, mostly consistent with the strong-mayor structure.

Six part-time council members make policies and decisions. The full-time mayor carries out those decisions, manages day-to-day operations and acts as the city’s ambassador.

The change Brashear, Daley and Robbins suggest would appoint a trained city manager to take over day-to-day operations in a council-manager form of government.

“We need somebody in administration that is stable and that’s going to be there,” Robbins said.

City Council would remain in charge of policies and have final say on hiring and firing department directors. The mayor would become a part-time job, paid less than the current $100,000 salary for ambassador-type duties and managing meetings.

Brashear, Daley and Robbins argued a person who meets the minimum requirements to run for the popular vote doesn’t necessarily know how to operate the city, which has multiple budgets.

“The city of Warner Robins is a $300 million corporation with 560 employees,” Brashear said, taking into account all of the city’s assets.

While the council members suggest a city manager who would answer to them, the mayor proposes a city operations manager who would answer to him.

“An elected official is running the day-to-day operations in Warner Robins when the citizens want me to represent the city on bigger issues,” such as with Robins Air Force Base and the state Legislature,” Shaheen said.

Shaheen said Warner Robins is big enough for both a full-time mayor and full-time operations manager. “The people want a full-time mayor in office,” he said.

Councilmen Daron Lee and Mike Davis said they aren’t in favor of changing the city’s charter or structure right now.

“It’s not something I would support unless it’s overwhelming that the people want it,” Davis said.

Lee said department directors manage day-to-day operations, and as long as they’re managed well “it flows down through the work force.”

He said city officials, including mayor and council, need only learn the best way to operate. He said training and communication is what’s needed.

“It’s OK not to know,” Lee said. “It’s a difference between not knowing and being willing to learn, and not knowing and not willing to learn.”

Still, Daley argued at a town hall meeting Tuesday that a chief executive officer needs to have earned his stripes before becoming a business’s top leadership.

“The only way you pick up the experience is to make the steps to be CEO,” Daley said.

Residents at the meeting were overwhelmingly uneasy about the idea. Concerns ranged from the council giving itself more power to adding another person for whom residents would need to navigate.

“This is just one more person I’m going to have to go through, almost like a union figure,” said Barbara Campbell, a resident who recently fought rezoning in her neighborhood.

Residents especially balked at Brashear suggesting the public may have little more than a month to digest the possible change.

Brashear said Wednesday council members originally thought residents would need to vote on the charter change on a ballot referendum in November but recently were told differently.

The state Legislature needs to approve a charter change. Its session ends around the end of March, and elections for mayor are in November.

“The last thing in the world I want to do is have (the candidate) run in November, he’s going to take over in January and then in March, we ask our legislators to make him part-time mayor,” Brashear said.

Robbins said she wants to ensure the Legislature would review a charter change if council takes on the issue.

Davis said the quick time line is part of what gives him pause.

“I say we slow it down,” Davis said. “It’s moving too fast.”

Brashear said reactions to the proposal at the town hall meeting are what he expected.

“There’s nothing more difficult for people to accept than change,” he said. “The first time they hear it, they’ll probably be against it. But the more they think about it, they’ll” say it’s the right decision.

David Cooke, a resident, warned council members their approach to the subject will matter. “The way the people react will be about the way this transpires,” Cooke said.

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