Will Charter Revisions Dilute City Manager’s Qualifications?

Will Charter Revisions Dilute

City Manager’s Qualifications?

Concerns Aired At Packed Committee Meeting

Paul Scheele, retired SUNY Oneonta poly-sci professor and a member of the original Charter Commission, expressed concerns moving city manager qualifications out of the City Charter will lower the bar. Behind him are ad hoc Charter Revision Committee members David Brenner, David Martindale and John Nader, who chaired that effort. At right is Council member John Rafter, chair of Common Council's Legislative Committee, which reviewed the new charter revisions this afternoon. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Paul Scheele, retired SUNY Oneonta poly-sci professor and a member of the original Charter Commission, expressed concerns that moving city-manager qualifications out of the City Charter will lower the bar. Behind him are ad hoc Charter Revision Committee members David Brenner, David Martindale and John Nader, who chaired the current revision effort, and reporter Libby Cudmore. At right is Council member John Rafter, chair of Common Council’s Legislative Committee, which reviewed the new charter revisions this afternoon. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By LIBBY CUDMORE • for www.AllOTSEGO.com

Former city clerk Doug Kendall said the city-manager position should be eliminated altogether.
Former city clerk Doug Kendall said the city-manager position should be eliminated altogether.

ONEONTA – A recommendation to move the city manager’s qualifications out of the city charter received the most negative comment this afternoon when proposed revisions were unveiled before a Common Council committee.

City Council Member David Rissberger, Third Ward, a member of the original Charter Revision Commission, said putting the qualifications in the charter was a response to public input.

“That was the biggest concern (in 2009-10) when we were rewriting the charter,” he said.  “The number of times I heard people say, ‘You’re doing this so you can put so-and-so into the position.’”

Former mayor John Nader, who chaired Mayor Gary Herzig's ad hoc Committee on Charter Revision, outlines his committee recommendations to Common Council's Legislative Committee in packed Council Chambers this afternoon. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
Former mayor John Nader, left, who chaired Mayor Gary Herzig’s ad hoc Committee on Charter Revision, outlines his committee recommendations to Common Council’s Legislative Committee in packed Council Chambers this afternoon. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

He said the qualifications in the charter was done to block cronyism in a city manager’s selection, and was recommended by Robert McEvoy, a consultant to the commission from the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy in Albany.

“You can change, loosen, tighten or add the qualifications,” said Paul Scheele, another member of the original commission, “but having these qualifications indicates the standards Oneonta expects.

“This is the minimum to being considered a serious applicant.  There is nothing in those qualifications that would prevent any flexibility,” said Scheele.

The other focus of public questioning was why changes in the charter, approved by 71 percent of voters in a 2011, wouldn’t also have to be approved by a second referendum.

“If you’ve changed what we voted on, let us vote on it again,” resident Arlene Curley advised Common Council’s Legislative Committee, which this afternoon reviewed changes recommended by Mayor Gary Herzig’s ad hoc Committee on Charter Revision.

“Who decides what substantive changes are?” said Laurie Zimniewicz, another member of the original commission.  “Six people? Eight people?  Or the city?  Under Home Rule, any time positions are changed, a referendum is mandatory.”

But other said there is some support for abolishing the position of city manager altogether, after the firing of the city’s first two city manages in as many years.

“When I knocked on 1,000 doors, the majority of them said ‘After all we’ve been through, we should get rid of the city manager’,” said Herzig.  “I was taken aback.  I’m going to do everything I can to minimize a third failure.”

“I find it curious that the mayor didn’t include the elimination of the city manager position in the committee’s charge,” said former City Clerk Doug Kendall, now director of Hartwick College’s Yager Museum.  “The city manager isn’t needed, and it has hindered the city’s progress.”

Though no public hearing has been set, Herzig assured the public that they would have time to share their thoughts.  “There will be at least two more council meetings where comments are welcome, and an official public hearing,” he said.  “We’re all united in wanting to make the city a better place.”


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