City leaders are considering a re-structuring, or change in the organizational structure of city government, without approval by residents. At its Feb. 11 meeting, second reading and a vote will be held on the establishment of a position of chief administrative officer (CAO) that will report to and advise the mayor. From the outset, this process has been tainted. The News-Graphic correctly questioned the action of the city when it gave a first reading of the proposed ordinance sponsored by council members David Lusby and Connie Tackett when the creation of this position was discussed in a closed session of council, a violation of the open meetings law. Kudos to the News-Graphic for doing its job.
At the last meeting, council gave a “second first reading” to the ordinance and the matter was publicly discussed. It came to light that the sole reason for the creation of this CAO position was to once again elevate the city attorney, who last year was assigned the title of Chief of Staff with a pay increase, and to elevate the assistant city attorney to the position of city attorney with a pay increase. The justification for the CAO position is that we are the fastest growing community in the state and that other cities have this position and examples given. One important fact was omitted, the example cities have commission forms of government. The mayor has already appointed department heads to report and advise the executive as to the needs of the city. Do we really need to fund a bureaucratic position to do what department heads are charged to do? The proposed position alone, with salary and benefits, will be costly to the city. It is also “special legislation” because the qualifications for the position are specifically written for the city attorney’s appointment. So the city will have a CAO, city attorney, and in all probability, an assistant city attorney the position being vacated by the appointment of the current assistant city attorney to the city attorney position. The city will still have to contract with outside counsel with expertise to represent it in lawsuits. Georgetown is not currently a unified or a commission form of government which allows for this type of position. While I understand that cities have broad powers that are granted by home rule, I do not believe it gives the council the powers to expand the meaning of the statute on the appointments of such positions of CAOs and other positions.
Elected officials take an oath of office to uphold the laws and constitution, they should take their oath seriously. I have observed our city leaders ignore the law in many situations by co-mingling duties of an elected official with those of an appointed position, just to increase the pay of an individual. Leaders in the past until a few years ago, were increasing your property taxes on an annual basis more than allowable by law. In another instance and contrary to the advice of counsel, city leaders used funds for purposes not in accordance with the law…the city attorney resigned. I could go on but I think you get the picture…city leaders do as they wish without regard for the law.
City leaders need to focus on the needs and services of the city, instead of creating non-essential positions, just to give an employee a raise. If the city needs a professional to run the city, then I submit to you that the proper way to accomplish this is to have the people vote to change its organizational plan to a commission with a qualified city manager or CAO. Cities with this plan of government are well run, and more importantly, it takes the politics out of government. Maybe it’s time for a change.
I have no doubt that this position will be approved, but the citizens need to think long and hard on the candidates in the next election. Being a leader means you must make difficult and unpopular decisions. Sometimes you just have to let employees, even good employees, move on to better themselves. Cities exist to perform the functions and provide the services that are essential to the quality of life which citizens depend for their health, safety, and welfare. I do not believe the creation of a CAO position will perform any function or provide any service essential to the quality of life for the citizens of Georgetown.
Marlene Rutherford is a Georgetown resident.