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City Manager Government Reform Draws Debate

New Baltimore City Council voted Monday night to direct the city attorney to draft proposal language for a city charter revision that is expected to go before voters this summer.

New Baltimore inched closer Monday to paving way for a city charter revision that could ultimately lead to creating a new form of government.

City Council voted to direct the attorney to draft proposal language that is expected to go on the August ballot, asking whether the city should revise its charter. If approved, that could eventually lead to the placement of a city manager in the charter—moving away from a strong-mayor form of government. Voters would ultimately decide whether they want a city manager to spearhead operations.

Some officials and residents in the community want a city manager because they say it's a more effective form of local government. Meanwhile, others question why the topic is coming up at all.

Mayor criticizes city manager position

"It just appears that a lot of this is being done as a personal affront towards me and I don't know why that is," New Baltimore Mayor Larry Smith said after the meeting.

Smith pointed out to council during the meeting that he makes approximately $40,000 in his full-time role—the lowest of city department heads—and does not receive benefits. A city manager for a community of this size, he said, makes about $95,000 annually with a benefit package alone that costs the same as his yearly salary, he said.

"I can't see where it's going to be a less expensive form of government," said Smith, noting he typically works 60 hours a week. "I think we have to put out the proper information."

He also pointed to a healthy budget and .

"The auditors have stated numerous times that this is probably one of the best-run cities in Michigan," he said.

Citizen committee sees benefits of city manager

The Citizens Advisory Committee, comprising 10 active residents, stated during the meeting that it favored bringing on a city manager after scrutinizing the charter commission. It also wants to update inaccurate or outdated language in the charter.

"The mayor has a lot of power over the six other people who are elected and this isn't any reflection of anyone individual," said Laurie Huff, longtime resident and committee member.

Huff added that the current administration has done a fine job, but that the city needs to think about future elected leaders as well.

New Citizens Advisory Committee member Stan Russell said "to be fair, it's a new topic at this point ... I will definitely look at both sides."

Voters have final say

Creating a city manager position in New Baltimore would be a lengthy process.

Five percent of registered voters in the city must sign a petition expressing their wish for one or a council majority would have to vote to place charter revision language on the August ballot, which was done at the last meeting. Then, ballot language and proposals to revise the charter commission, circa early 1970s, would need voter approval, a charter commission could be elected as soon November, among other steps. At the earliest, a city manager could be hired in summer 2013, said Councilman . 

That person would be a non-elected official overseeing daily city operations and providing continuity for all departments. He or she would work alongside the mayor, who is a full-time elected official.

Stanton said that many residents have told him they would like to see the city manager position created to help offset turnover from termed elected officials.

Annoyed April 11, 2012 at 12:21 AM
I would be curious what would happen if we were to take the money that would be invested in this City Manager process and instead put that toward new business incentives. Let's get some new stores into our downtown area and help them with some startup costs or rebates. It is amazing that our city council seems to spin their wheels and they still go nowhere. We just went through elections and wow the promises that are delivered during election time. I certainly do NOT remember this City Manager idea coming out then. How about doing some of the things that you campaigned on? Zack.. why not work on "streamlining" the process for new business? Wasn't that one of your ideas? Flo....why not work on our city roads.. wasn't that something that you campaigned on? Get your heads out of the clouds and do something for our city, instead of just spinning your wheels to feel important. "
Resident April 11, 2012 at 05:28 AM
The City Manager is not a cost effective way of running the city but whereas many people spoke up at the meeting (including Stanton, didn't know he had a voice but perhaps Butler gave him permission to speak) once the Mayor started talking, defending his position he was told this was not the proper forum. So while residents and council can have their say the Mayor is not allowed to defend his position. Laurie Huff stated her opinion as if it were fact but when questioned about what she was saying she backtracked and stated the council asked the CAC to propose the City Manager. If it's such a good idea then why didn't council suggest it? There should have been an open forum for discussion before the issue got this far. No one knows what is involved or the amount of money it will cost or the benefits if there are any. But maybe Stanton can tell us all that is he stops smirking and starts acting professional. Mid-twenties and still living with mommy and daddy, yeah he knows a lot about the real world.
Fed up April 11, 2012 at 04:15 PM
How many studies were done to improve downtown and what actually was done? Just go to other cities and see what atrtacts people. One study suggested that we should have a good view of out greatest asset, the water, and to cut down the trees that block it. Oh no, we can't do that. Start telling me what we can do. This was years ago. New trees could have ben planted and transplanted. What was done NOTHING. The money paid for the study - wasted. The latest update was to incorporate bump outs along the street and angle parking. This would of greatly improved the look downtown. NO CAN DO, Our snow plows couldn't do their job.Was just in Northville - they did it - looks great - send our plow drivers over there for training. Can't see the water, can't create a better look for the street and other great ideas ignored - pathetic. We will never have a vibrant downtown. Seems that the plan is to keep things the same and it has been accomplished. The city charter needs to be updated. As far a a City Manager, let the mayor do some sole searching and explain why this came up.
KM April 11, 2012 at 07:14 PM
They just don't get it.....so much for change..it is positively nauseating to watch that group of people. They are so out of touch and honestly I believe just don't care. They get to feel important twice a month and that's all they really want to do. Rochester is already redoing their downtown streetscape. When I heard that I almost doubled over with laughter. They have a gorgeous downtown but know what it takes to get it there and keep it there. People may have had issues with the Apreas but they definitely knew what they were doing taking their business out of the joke of a downtown we have.
Sara Shunk April 15, 2012 at 12:14 PM
When I first moved to this city 7 years ago I fell in love with it's potential. Now I'm counting down to when I can move from here and move to a place that actually has a downtown, works with businesses instead of against them...I am a small business owner and would love to open up something downtown, if I thought the city would support me. I didn't see that happen with my friends business (they have moved out of the city now). I don't see anything happening in New Baltimore, ever.

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