ANNA MARIA – The Charter Review Committee met with city commissioners and Mayor Dan Murphy last week to discuss potential changes to the city charter.
Switching to a city manager form of government was discussed but there wasn’t any support for the idea. This led to discussion about the possibility of someday appointing a city administrator to assist the mayor. The Wednesday, Feb. 6 meeting session also included discussion about increasing the length of the terms served by the city’s elected officials.
Reviewed every five years, the 20-page city charter establishes the structural framework for Anna Maria’s strong mayor form of government. It also establishes the powers and duties of the mayor, commission chair, city commissioners, clerk, treasurer and city attorney. Former Mayor Fran Barford chairs the commission-appointed committee that also includes Jack Brennan, John Chambers, Sissy Quinn and Mark Short.
Switching to a city manager form of government would require a charter amendment adopted by the majority of Anna Maria’s registered voters.
Barford noted city manager discussions are taking place in Holmes Beach. She and Mayor Dan Murphy agree the mayor’s job has become more like a full-time job, but neither feels Anna Maria needs a city manager.
Murphy strongly opposes hiring a city manager that reports to the city commission.
“You’re asking somebody to serve five masters. It’ll work, but things won’t get done fast,” he said, making a comparison to corporations with board members who are heavily involved in the business operations.
Having worked with many boards and non-profit organizations, Commissioner Carol Carter agreed.
The charter already authorizes the mayor to appoint a city administrator, with commission approval.
Murphy said a city administrator who reports to the mayor would make the mayor’s job easier. He said project management, like building a pier, was something that could potentially be delegated to a city administrator with the right experience.
He said a future mayor that lacks management expertise might rely heavily on an experienced city administrator. Murphy said the cost of hiring a city administrator is not yet justified, but the day is coming.
Commissioner Amy Tripp questioned whether a mayor’s workload can still be handled by one person.
“One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is city government becomes more and more complex,” Commissioner Doug Copeland said.
Copeland suggested the commission also be given the authority to appoint a city administrator if a situation arises where a mayor isn’t doing the work required and has significant time remaining in their term. This change would require a charter amendment.
“The feeling was the city clerk and our staff are really doing the administrator’s job, so for our sized city it’s working,” Barford said of the committee’s previous discussion.
Short said running a city is significantly more complicated than it was three, five or 40 years ago, and that’s one of the reasons he brought up a city manager. He’s OK with the commission also being given the authority to appoint a city administrator, but the administrator’s roles need to be set forth in that section of the charter, which the committee hasn’t reviewed yet.
Short asked how long it takes for a new commissioner to get up to speed and why terms are two years.
Carter said when she first ran she was asked what city ordinance she’d change if she could. She said she’d consider making commission terms longer because of the steep learning curve faced by those entering city government. She said Manatee County and Bradenton commissioners serve four-year terms, but four years might discourage some Anna Maria candidates.
“Three years might be more appealing in both directions,” Carter said.
Barford said it can be time-consuming and costly to run for office every two years. Copeland and Commissioner Dale Woodland do not spend time or money campaigning, nor do they support longer terms.
Commissioner Brian Seymour said he could see both sides of the issue and would favor three years over four.
Tripp cited the learning curve she experienced and said three-year terms might create a more effective city commission.
The Charter Review Committee will meet again Wednesday morning. Feb. 13.