Getting back up after a smackdown
Consider it a victory for cable, satellite, and streaming media. If Monday night’s episode of the drama known as Marion City Council meetings is any indication, residents hereabouts no longer will be able to regard council sessions as a substitute for a regular viewing of “WWE Smackdown.”
Exactly which governmental body seems to be composed of all-star wrestlers — or, perhaps, Three Stooges plus two — varies over time. It shifted some months back from Marion County Commission, which for now seems as tame as a nature film, to Marion City Council.
Monday night, however, council members seemed united in expressing serious and thoughtful concerns about how to replace city administrator Roger Holter, whose announcement in secret session a week earlier that he planned to retire was the subject of more leaks than the Titanic.
We rarely applaud Mayor David Mayfield for his thoughtfulness, but it was on full and refreshing display Monday night as he thoroughly outlined options for how to find a new administrator.
Even more refreshing was when council members Zach Collett and Ruth Herbel, the yin and yang of the council, seemed to be reading from the same page, both calling for help from search firms that could bring in an array of talented and experienced applicants with new ideas for the city.
The council has to be careful when considering search consultants, of course. As with most things, you tend to get what you pay for. Cheaper options often lead to inferior results, as has happened when previous searches done on the cheap were called off and internal applicants with no experience were pressed into service by default.
Mayfield was one such choice, and even he at the time was reluctant to take the job of administrator. That reluctance undoubtedly wasn’t assuaged when two council members were poised near the end of his time to fire him, more or less as two council members have at times been poised to fire Holter, who similarly was promoted from within.
If you think current council disputes turn too nasty too often, you might want to go back and re-read news stories about Mayfield’s tumultuous term as administrator in the 2000s. At one point, a prominent local businessman, now a county commissioner, delivered a not-so-veiled and very public threat to remove his business from Marion if Mayfield were axed.
Monday night, however, no hints of serious divisions, threats, or cross words were evident. The biggest question appeared to be how to pay for the type of administrator Marion wants and needs.
Like many, we’ve butted heads more than once with Holter, but residents should never forget one key fact. He has been an absolute bargain. While many regard his salary as overly generous, it is in truth far below what other cities have to pay for administrators who aren’t already more or less retired from another career and already living in the community.
It might not be fair to Holter to boost the position’s salary as he heads out the door, but increasing it to a more competitive level will help ensure that the best and the brightest will be willing to take the job.
Although the administrator’s salary is paid out of the city’s general fund, increasing the salary won’t automatically mean taxes must be raised. Transfers between funds can be arranged, and a highly capable new administrator might be able to handle duties of one or more other positions, potentially saving enough to pay for the raise.
Not filling a current vacancy in the city’s economic developer position and adding those responsibilities to the city administrator’s would be one option.
Merging the positions of city clerk and city administrator, as was done up until Mayfield became administrator, would be another. So, too, would merging duties from such jobs as community enrichment director or public works director, depending on the skill set of the administrator chosen.
We aren’t advocating laying off any of the hard-working current holders of these positions but rather potentially reclassifying them as deputies whose positions might go away or be downgraded should there be turnover in the future.
The important thing is to view the process of selecting a new administrator as a time for the often-fractured city to come together and begin finding solutions for problems that long have dogged it.
It may not be as entertaining as “Smackdown,” but it’ll be a lot better for the future of our community to begin building it up rather than tearing it down.
— ERIC MEYER