City administrator position needs more consideration

Monday’s Warner Robins City Council meeting proved right interesting. First, citizens attended (that’s a good thing) wishing to comment on an issue that wasn’t even on the agenda, and secondly, an issue that would invariably, if implemented, cost the city money.

The question is whether the city should hire a city administrator? The big question is, why is this being considered at this point in time in the city’s history? Certainly, Warner Robins continues to grow. The city grew at a 7.2 percent clip between 2010 and 2015 and now has a population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, of 73,490 as of 2015.

Are there segments of the population that doubt Mayor Randy Toms administrative abilities? What’s falling through the cracks exactly and not getting done?

At the meeting, Councilman Tim Thomas apparently led the discussion by saying that no one was looking to change the governing structure of the city, but that the city had grown too large to not have an administrator help the mayor. But how exactly would that work?

There are a couple of problems and Mayor Toms hit on one of the biggest issues employees would have: Who’s the boss? “When they (city employees) have to answer to seven, they don’t know who to answer to,” Toms said. “That’s one big problem we have in Warner Robins is that nobody knows who to answer to.” Toms said the job of council, which has six members, is to set policy. “Day-to-day operations are to be run by the mayor.” Toms said that if the city does not fix that issue, having a city administrator will make no difference.

That’s probably as nice a way of saying that council has been overstepping its authority instead of making sure the mayor follows the policy mandates it sets forth. Mayor Toms is right, until the chain of command issues are fixed, the city’s engine will not run on all cylinders.

These kinds of problems are not new to Warner Robins or to most cities, even those with a strong mayor form of government or those with a city manager or administrator. Employees know who they can influence on council or commission and too many times, council members fall into a trap. Instead of directing the employee(s) either to their supervisor(s) or to the mayor, they try to handle the situations themselves and end up involved in issues best left to the administration. At times, employees are like children who play off their parents, seeing if they can get what they want from one, after they’ve already been told no by the other.

While Councilman Thomas stated that he wants to make sure the city can pay for the position before he could support it. The answer to that is fairly straight forward. According to the National League of Cities, the average salary for a Chief Administration Officer/City Manager is $106,408. Yes, that’s $6,408 more than the mayor’s salary. So the question becomes, is that how you want to spend taxpayer money? And there are other questions that should be asked and answered.

▪  Who would hire for the position?

▪  Would the hire need council approval?

▪  Who would the city administrator report to, mayor, council or both?

▪  Who could fire the city administrator?

▪  Would the person have appeal rights if fired?

▪  Would the city administrator have the power to hire and fire department heads or other city employees?

There are a number of sources such as the Georgia Municipal Association, that can help with questions and answers. That said, we think its too ambitious to seek a council vote on the subject by July 1. One thing is sure. If there are other issues bubbling, a city administrator is not a panacea.