Granite Falls should switch to city manager system

Granite Falls is being asked on the November ballot to choose between its current mayor-council form of government, and a more business-oriented council-manager form. Cities across America face this choice (a very few even choosing a third alternative, that of commission government), and for their own reasons decide one way or the other. My position is based solely on the needs, challenges and resources associated with Granite Falls. I strongly support changing from our current mayor-council approach to that of a council-manager structure.

The overriding factor in my mind is the need for efficient, effective operation of city departments. We must provide the highest possible levels of service, within the financial constraints that we face. By definition, that means having the most efficient, effective people in all roles with the city, whether their job be technical, clerical or service-related.

Our city, like any organization, runs on people-power, and the level of city performance depends on the talent and commitment of the people we have in place. That means those departments must be run like a business — people need to be hired based on their ability to contribute, developed in a manner that expands their capacity and rewarded with expanded opportunities that take advantage of their personal growth. Likewise, if they cannot meet the requirements, they need to be evaluated fairly and replaced, if necessary.

Of course, that only happens if they are hired, managed and developed by a professional — someone who understands the jobs to be done and who can evaluate performance on an ongoing basis, uninfluenced by politics.

We might be extraordinarily lucky, and might by chance vote into office every four years a mayor who has the experience and knowledge required, who has the professional management skills required, who has the financial background to facilitate both short- and long-term planning, who has the organizational experience to pursue financial grants and productive organizational relationships, who wants to do the job for a mere pittance, presumably on a part-time basis, knowing his/her tenure is only four years. Or we could deliberately hire the requisite professional city manager, as a long-term employee, held responsible for his/her results by the council, just like any business CEO is held responsible by a board of directors, and retained or released accordingly.

Make no mistake, “money” and “risk management” are large parts of the consideration. Whoever manages the city must understand the financial structure, the “ins” and the “outs”, and have the ability to use modern tools that enable sound planning. We’ve seen the effect of having newly-elected officials entering office at a time of “excess income” (big school and housing developments being built), spending freely because of the available income without insight into more “typical” times, then having times actually turn far worse than typical. The city almost went bankrupt, major structural changes were required, and a number of internal “taxes” necessarily imposed for survival.

We’re gaining back our financial health now, but only because of the unique skills and insights of a couple dedicated city employees in implementing a multi-year recovery plan.

The council-manager form of government ensures that a professional city manager can be hired with a long-term commitment to success. He/she hires, manages, develops, evaluates, and terminates (if necessary) city staff, all with the intent of long-term success of the team he/she builds. He/she manages the execution of the strategies laid out by the council, which is the elected body that establishes the overall direction, policies, and personality of the city.

The city manager is unencumbered with politics, not subject to the whim of four-year elections, and — most important of all — is paid to handle the complex full-time job of managing the city! Expecting that level of management from a part-time virtually-unpaid mayor is simply unrealistic — the risk of doing so is equivalent to betting all City resources on “red” at the casino.

Let’s elect the council representatives we trust most to set the policies and priorities for the city, give that group the responsibility to hire (and fire) a professional city manager, and enjoy continual growth and improvement in Granite Falls.

Our taxes and time are valuable commodities that deserve the best investment and management possible, by a city team professionally equipped to respond to all situations.

Fred Cruger is a resident of Granite Falls.

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