March 2017 Brief: Volume 24, Number 9
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Muscatine Needs Professional Management
by Don Racheter, Ph.D.
With a 2016/2017 General Fund budget of $18,784,300 and nine departments to oversee (Art Center, Development, Finance, Fire Department, Library, Parks and Recreation, Police Department, Public Works, and Water Department), employing a professionally trained City Manager/Administrator as the full-time leader of a mid-sized city (population 23,888 as of 2014) such as Muscatine seems more prudent and more likely to succeed than expecting similar leadership from a part-time Mayor.
As of December 14, 2016, there were 965 incorporated cities in the state of Iowa. Section 372.1 of the Code of Iowa allows for eight types of government. When first incorporated, any Iowa city has the Mayor-Council form of government and retains it until the city by ordinance adopts a different form and files a copy of its charter with the Secretary of State.
In the commission form of city government, a Mayor and four Councilmen are elected at large, with each being in charge of one of five city departments: Accounts and Finances, Public Safety, Streets and Public Improvements, Parks and Public Property, and Public Affairs.
In the Council-Manager-at-Large type of government, the citizens of the city elect five Councilmen at large for staggered four-year terms. They in turn elect one of their number to be Mayor and another to be Mayor Pro Tem. The Council also appoints the City Manager.
In the Council-Manager-Ward form of city government, there is a Mayor and six Councilmen, elected from six wards or from four wards with two elected at large. The seven elected members serve staggered four-year terms and appoint the City Manager.
A home rule charter type of government must provide for a council with an odd number of members, not less than five, and a Mayor (who may be one of the Councilmen), with two-year or four-year staggered terms of office. Prior to 1857, the State Legislature issued special charters to cities, but now cities cannot adopt this form of government in Iowa. As the name implies, a city-county consolidated form of government combines the two organizations to prevent duplication of services and to save taxpayers money. A community commonwealth does the same thing, but it involves multiple counties or cities.
If the citizens of a community want to change their form of government, they may do so by petitioning the City Council to submit to the electors the question of adopting a different form of city government, which shall be specified in the petition from among the forms allowed by state law. A city government may not be changed more than once in a six-year period. The minimum number of signatures required on the petition shall be equal in number to 25 percent of those who voted in the last regular city election. If a majority of those voting approve, the change is adopted; but if the proposal loses, it may not be resubmitted for at least four years. If it is adopted, the officers called for will be elected during the next regularly scheduled city election.
The Mayor-Council government system can be further divided into Weak Mayor and Strong Mayor types of government. In the former, the Mayor’s influence is solely based on personality in order to accomplish desired goals, and the Mayor has no formal authority outside of that which is delegated from the Council; the Mayor may not veto ordinances or appoint or remove city officials. In the latter, a separately elected Mayor is given almost total administrative authority, prepares and administers the city budget, and appoints and dismisses city department heads. Abuses in this form of government led to the development of the Council-Manager form and its widespread adoption throughout the United States.
Recently, there has been discussion on whether Muscatine should adopt the Strong-Mayor form of government, whereby a full-time Mayor would allow the city to get rid of the professional City Manager. Such a move would be counter-historical and open the city to the types of corruption that befell Chicago under the Daleys, New York under Boss Tweed and the Tammany Hall machine, and Kansas City under Tom Pendergast. As the City of Muscatine studies the feasibility of building a container port, which would add significantly to the activity level of the area, more — rather than less — professionalism seems to be the order of the day.
Dr. Don Racheter is President of Public Interest Institute, Muscatine, Iowa. Contact him at Public.Interest.Institute@LimitedGovernment.org.
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