The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

April 3, 2014

In Our Opinion: City manager concept still the way to go

The Daily Star

---- — If at first you don’t succeed …

To put it about as kindly as possible, Oneonta’s selection of Michael H. Long as the city’s first manager just didn’t work out.

Long is not a bad guy. He showed up regularly for work — something that was a legitimate concern given his reported absenteeism at his previous gig as city administrator in Poughkeepsie — and brought in grants that more than paid for his $115,000 annual salary.

But, to use a sports metaphor, there were holes in his game that became apparent after he began his job on Oct. 1, 2012. Long had a tough time dealing with some of the many city department heads who reported to him, and he was at times tardy or unresponsive to inquiries from department heads, Common Council members and the public.

At its Tuesday night meeting, the Common Council was gracious while accepting Long’s “retirement,” even giving him a standing ovation.

“Long’s service as Oneonta’s first city manager has provided a considerable contribution to our community, now and in terms of ideas that will serve us well for the future,” Mayor Dick Miller said.

But according to several reliable sources, had Long not retired or resigned, the council would have fired him Tuesday.

We could second-guess the 2012 selection process that employed a national company to narrow the choice of city manager prospects, but it is far more important to look forward. We are just as enthusiastic about the need for a city manager as we were in this space on Sept. 10, 2012, when we congratulated the city and Long as they embarked on this journey.

The key will be to fill this very difficult position with the right person. It’s a job not for the squeamish, with many aspects, not the least of which is the interaction with an opinionated Common Council and a popular mayor who formerly performed many of the functions that are now the city manager’s bailiwick.

Although she has said she is not interested in being a candidate for the job, Oneonta could do worse than to strongly consider highly competent Director of Finance Meg Hungerford, who will be acting city manager after Long departs May 30.

That said, we urge the Common Council to spend ample time to define just what it wants in a city manager, to examine whether it wants to again conduct a national search or make it more regional, and to look into a reorganization of city departments so that the next city manager might not have so many of them reporting directly to him or her.

More than anything else, don’t lose faith in the city manager form of government. It’s still a good idea.