The Daily Star
Having served as mayors of the City of Oneonta, we write to urge the city’s voters to approve the proposed new city charter on Nov. 8.
A commission of city residents has worked for almost two years, with extensive input from all interested parties, to develop the new charter. Experiences of other communities like ours have been sought out and considered. The Albany Law School, which has significant expertise in the field, has written the new document at the direction of the commission. It is more concise and further clarifies the responsibilities of the council, the mayor, appointed boards and commissions, and department heads. There seems to be only one real area of controversy, the proposal to create the new position of city manager. We strongly support the approval of the charter and the establishment of the city manager’s position.
With all the activities of city government added together, including water and wastewater systems, our elected officials and paid professionals and their staffs manage an $18 million budget for a physical plant valued at more than $70 million. Activities within the city government’s scope of responsibility range from swimming lessons through sophisticated police and fire capabilities. The government employs approximately 200 people, a number of whom are covered by four separate union contracts. The government directly serves more than 14,000 residents and indirectly thousands more who work and shop in the city.
Everything in our society has become more complex, from the technology we employ to the increasingly difficult financial challenges we face. The current structure of city government has only vague lines of responsibility and authority that make the decision process, even on mundane issues, awkward and slow. While each of us feels we have performed our duties effectively while in office, we believe that a single professional point of administrative responsibility in the form of a city manager will, over time, contribute to better serve our taxpayers at a lower cost.
In the new charter, the common council’s meetings will continue to be chaired by the mayor. The council will continue to have control over the city’s finances. The common council will have the authority to appoint and hold a city manager accountable for the performance of government and will be able to remove that individual if he or she does not perform the required duties to the council’s satisfaction.
The individual appointed will have to be a professional with the appropriate education and experience in his or her background. Some are concerned about the cost of funding this position. We are confident that, over time, this position will not add to the cost of government and will, in fact, reduce it _ based on the savings and efficiencies that will result from a city manager’s full-time presence overseeing the day to day affairs of our government. Even if no organization or operational efficiencies were sought, the establishment of this position will cost the city less than 1 percent of its total budget.
We feel strongly that while our current system has served us well to this point, it will serve us even better with the assurance of a full-time professional day to day manager and leader. Improved accountability across the entire government will lead to even better performance of an already well performing set of departments that serve us. The city will be less dependent on the availability and background of a part-time mayor whose responsibilities under the current charter are, at best, vague. We strongly support the idea of a city manager and the adoption of the new charter. We urge you to vote for it.