On Tuesday, as part of an ongoing effort to revise major sections of city code, the council considered measures that would move certain functions traditionally held by the council — and give them to city staff instead.
“These are major structural changes to the way the city is organized,” Moab City Attorney Chris McAnany said, explaining a proposal that would give authority to appoint the city’s police chief, city attorney and the public works director to the city manager.
Historically, the city’s mayor has made those appointments.
No specific reason was given during the meeting for the change, but the proposal was in keeping with the city’s oft-repeated goal of bringing its practices more in line with those of larger cities — and in reducing the load placed on the council itself.
Moab City Manager David Everitt said similar changes with regard to other staff positions had already been made. He added that the change regarding police chief, attorney and public works director merely completes a plan already underway.
“It seems like this is a step along the way from a smaller town to a bigger town,” Council Member Mike Duncan said during the meeting. Duncan said he was comfortable with that change, “as long as we have oversight of the top dog over there who’s making all the decisions,” gesturing toward Everitt.
Mayor Emily Niehaus echoed the sentiment, saying she wanted something explicit in the code regarding the mayor’s oversight role with the city manager, “not with supervision, but with evaluation,” she said.
No one on the council slighted Everett or questioned his performance of the job, but recalled difficulties with city managers in the past.
“I have no dog in this fight,” Everitt said. “I can take it or leave it.” He did say, however, that having the city manager rather than the mayor appoint such positions would create a “political buffer,” so that those appointments did not become or appear to become political.
The council came to no decision on the item, but appeared ready to discuss it at greater length next week.
“I think it’s important that we as a council move slowly as we work through these code revisions,” Niehaus had said at the beginning of the discussion.
Additionally, council members looked at changes proposed to chapter two of the city code, which deals with organizational and personnel policies.
Later in the meeting, the council also considered another change dealing with provisions in the city’s ethics and procurement statutes.
Some discussion took place over whether or not the council should examine — at every council meeting — all the payments made by the city. Currently, a council member reviews the city’s payments and brings a recommendation to the council to certify those payments. That council member is currently Karen Guzman-Newton.
Guzman-Newton said that as she realized how much time she spent reviewing the city’s bills, she began to wonder, “How does this work in other cities and towns?”
Council Member Kalen Jones had a similar thought, wondering how to balance the council’s responsibility for oversight with the amount of time that could reasonably be expected to be devoted to the work by a part-time council.
“When I heard four hours per week, that was disturbing,” he said.
The solution was to provide, in ordinance, not that the council “shall” review the city’s payments, but that the council “may” review those payments, while providing strict and clear instructions as to procurements and payments to relevant staff.
“What drove this ... was the concern that the council may be overburdened,” McAnany said.
Again, the council held off making a final decision.
“I think it’s worth it to take some time,” Niehaus reiterated. “We’re talking about changing code.”