Mayor-Strong or Mayor-Weak03/29/15 - Editorial by Renee Wilkins
As our 5-year Charter Review Committee convenes, we ask the questions; “Should a city our size move to a mayor-strong government?”And “Is one form of government more conducive to balancing power?”Should we kiss this frog to see if it turns intoa prince? What if it remains a frog?
Many of us assume that a mayor of a populace approaching 100,000 residents actually runs the city. Upon adopting home rule in 1991, Rio Rancho implemented a city manager/weak-mayor style of governing. The City Manager (appointed by the Governing Body) runs the day-to-day operations of the city. The Mayor presides over governing body meetings, acting as a tie-breaker vote when needed. He acts as an ambassador for the city, but he lacks the authority that many people expect a mayor to have. In fact, in 2012 the citizens voted for a full-time mayor, showing they desired a change. No significant change in mayoral duties or pay occurred, however, he is expected to keep full-time office hours.
Changing to a mayor-strong system would separate the executive and legislative branches of our city government.While the Governing Body is very limited in its ability to communicate with one another on policy issues outside of meetings, the City Manager is not as restricted. The Office of the City Manager can wield substantial influence over Governing Body members. He works at the will of 4 Governing Body members (the majority), whereas a strong mayor works at the will of the voters.
The Governing Body and City Manager also share the same City Attorney, who works at the will of the City Manager and Mayor.This would appear to place the City Attorney and the City Council at odds from time-to-time, leaving Governing Body members without impartial legal advice on city issues. City Council members voting on approval of complex issues should have an unbiased legal advisor at their disposal.
Separation of powers and accountability make a mayor-strong system seem more desirable, but as our mothers told us “the grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence”.Changing could come with increased costs. The strong mayor would oversee the day-to-day operations, hire his own department heads and chief of staff. He would also hold veto power. Upon each election the city could see swifter changes, for better or worse, and we’d likely be stuck with him until the end of his term.
If the Charter Review Committee recommends this transformation, it could be on the ballot next spring. If approved, it will probably take effect in 2018. Even though drawbacks can exist in both systems, it’s important that we find the best fit for the future success of Rio Rancho.
Is one form of government a prince and the other a frog, or are they both inherently full of warts? To find out, we are sponsoring a forum on this topic.Former Mayor TomSwisstack and former City Manager James Jimenez have graciously agreed to debate the pros and cons in this point/counterpoint discussion. Join us on Thursday, April 2nd (7pm) at Rio Rancho Church of Christ for this informative event.
Stay engaged. stay informed.
The Rio Rancho Tea Party is a nonpartisan group.
Meetings are open to the public.
The RRTP holds meetings on the first Tuesday of each month at Rio Rancho Church of Christ - 1006 22nd St.