Saturday, January 21, 2006
It is with special interest that I have been following the Steamboat Springs City Council process of hiring a new city manager. I was a member of the city's Planning Commission shortly after Steamboat Springs approved the present home rule charter and annexed Mountain Village. I, like most residents of Steamboat, approved of these changes so Steamboat could develop in an organized and efficient manner.
Steamboat has matured in the past 30 years. The system established in the original charter has served us well. However, it is time to establish a system to address the issues facing the city in the 21st century. Now is the time to debate a change in government structure.
The problem lies in the strong city manager form of municipal government set by the existing charter. The city manager is only accountable to the City Council. He appoints all department heads and staff, who are accountable only to him, not the residents of the city. This creates a situation that makes it difficult, if not impossible, for resident's complaints and suggestions to be addressed.
The City Council is a volunteer, elected body. The council is not expected or able to be involved with day-to-day issues because of its members' jobs and other commitments. This leaves only the city manager responsible for the day-to-day concerns of residents. We need a change.
The city should debate the advantages of changing our charter to have a full-time elected mayor. The city manager would be only an equal to other members of City Council when council is sitting as a decision-making body. The mayor would be in charge of the day-to-day operations. In the past, Steamboat worked well under a mayoral form of government, which is used in other Colorado municipalities, such as Denver, with great success. The times and issues call for a return to this democratic and accountable form of governance.
The City Council is discussing the appointment of a new city manager. This is an opportunity for a break with our existing structure of government. If this potential change is put forward now, the hiring of the new city manager would become a more effective process for change.