Just what is a city chief administrative officer (CAO) and what are its benefits?
Those are the questions that arose from the Jan. 14 Georgetown City Council meeting with the first reading of an ordinance creating such a position. A second reading is planned at the Feb. 11 meeting approving the position if council approves the ordinance.
Morgain Patterson, the Director of municipal law and training with the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC), said there is one big difference between a chief administrative officer and a city manager.
“A chief administrative officer is not a form of government and it does not alter the form of government from the mayor-council form of government Georgetown has now,” she said. “The CAO operates to the extent the mayor delegates duties to him and can only exercise executive authority.”
Georgetown Mayor Tom Prather explained at the Jan. 14 council meeting that adding the position will add additional depth to the management of the fastest-growing city in Kentucky.
“We have a number of large, complex issues requiring more time and management to get us to successful outcomes,” he said. “It takes on added importance when you consider we are the fastest growing city and one of the most dynamic communities in Kentucky.”
According to KLC data, Georgetown is the largest city without any kind of administrative position such as CAO or city manager. Patterson said smaller cities have CAOs or city managers, and the decision officials make to create such positions has more to do with the issues facing the city as much as its size.
Prather indicated in the Jan. 14 council meeting that he wanted to name City Attorney Andrew Hartley as the chief administrative officer and promote Devon Golden to city attorney. Hartley’s salary would be $118,000 and Golden’s salary would be $65,000. KLC data shows that the mid-point range for such positions in cities with a population of 20,000-99,999 is $123,168 with a minimum of $91,728 and a maximum of $171,894.
“I was comfortable proposing a salary near the mid-point range,” Prather said. “We won’t be filling Devon’s current position.”
Patterson said one of the hallmarks of the mayor-council form of government is the clear separation of powers. The mayor has executive authority and the council acts as the legislative branch.
The city’s legislative branch, in this case the council, has to approve creating the position because it is not an elected position and sets the qualifications to hire and the duties as set by the council. Future mayors could not fill the position, or future councils could abolish the position via legislative act.
Councilwoman Karen Tingle-Sames said that it is the delegation of powers that is giving her the most concern, and she said that is what she is hearing from constituents.
“The good thing since the last meeting is that I am hearing from some in the public who are not in favor of it,” she said. “They feel authority is being taken away from the mayor and given to the CAO. He is not elected and we would be shifting roles to a non-elected position.
“I feel people elect the mayor as the manager and the face of the city. If the responsibilities are shifted, the mayor is the face of the city and not overseeing the work of the city.”
Tingle-Sames said she also feels the pay is quite substantial. She had asked at the earlier meeting about raising Hartley’s salary to the recommended $118,000 and wait until the budget cycle to discuss adding the position.
“I do understand the mayor needs an assistant, but I don’t think the CAO is the way to do it,” she said. “We have had trouble in the past where the city let a non-elected person have a lot of authority and say in what happens in the city.”
Steven McClain can be reached at email@example.com.