City manager amendment lacks supermajority support

City manager amendment lacks supermajority support
Charter Review Commissioners Nancy Deal, Sean Murphy, Ed Upshaw, Claudia Carlson and David Zaccagnino disagree on the need for a city manager. - Kristin Swain | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – The quest to hire a city manager in Holmes Beach has suffered a significant setback, but the matter has not yet been officially decided.

Switching from a strong mayor to a city manager form of government would require a charter amendment recommended by the Holmes Beach Charter Review Commission (CRC) and supported by the city’s registered voters.

The Holmes Beach mayor’s responsibilities are set forth in Article IV of the city charter.

During the Thursday, April 4 CRC meeting, member Sean Murphy made a motion to leave Article IV as currently written.

“There shall be a mayor who shall be the chief executive officer of the city. The mayor shall be responsible to the electorate for the administration of all city affairs placed in his/her charge by or under this charter,” according to Article IV, §4.01.

“I recommend we make no changes to Article IV,” Murphy said when making his motion.

David Zaccagnino supported Murphy’s motion. CRC chairman Ed Upshaw and members Claudia Carlson and Nancy Deal opposed it.

Confusion then ensued as to what that 3-2 vote meant regarding the potential hiring of a city manager.

According to §13.03 of the city charter, “Any proposed amendment or amendments to the charter adopted by a vote of a supermajority of the charter commission shall be presented to the city commission which shall provide for its submission to the voters in the next city general election.”

A supermajority vote means at least four of the five CRC members must support a proposed charter amendment for it to move forward.

Filling in for City Attorney Patricia Petruff at Thursday’s meeting, attorney Thomas Thanus said, “There may be some confusion about the last vote. There were three ‘no’ votes and two ‘yes’ votes, which means the motion didn’t carry. The motion was to not make any changes to Article IV. That motion was defeated, which means that Article IV is still up for discussion. You’ve haven’t closed the door on any further discussion.”

The CRC members can continue debating the city manager question, but Thanus said any proposed amendment that doesn’t have supermajority support will not be included in the final recommendations presented to city commissioners.

“You still have the option of revisiting some or all of your decisions, but you will get to a point where you will have a final vote. At that point, it would take four ‘yes’ votes in order for something to be presented to the voters at a referendum,” Thanus said.

“You’ve had other 3-2 votes, which means you have not achieved the supermajority,” Thanus said regarding previous votes taken on other potential amendments.

City manager debate

During Thursday’s meeting, CRC members shared their personal views on the city manager issue.

“I think the process works. It is more democratic. Little towns like ours are the community garden of democracy and I think we need to do whatever we can to protect that,” Murphy said of the city’s current form of government.

“We have good strong department heads. I don’t think the chief of police needs another boss – and it’s expensive,” Murphy said of a city manager.

Carlson suggested it was undemocratic to prevent city residents from determining which form of government they want.

“The logic of that escapes me. The citizens have the right to make a choice,” Carlson said.

Zaccagnino said hiring a city manager would add another layer of government and make it harder for citizens to enact change through their elected officials. He also disputes the notion that a city manager can remain politically-neutral.

Zaccagnino and Murphy both noted citizens can still initiate by petition a city referendum if they wish to continue the pursuit of a city manager.

Upshaw said the CRC’s duty is not to set policy, but to present viable options to the public.

“There is a section of our citizens who favor this. Are they the majority, I don’t know? But the question keeps coming up. I think it should go before the citizens,” Upshaw said.

Upshaw said a citizen-initiated city manager referendum that does not fully address all aspects of the proposed hiring could cause “chaos.”

Recent hiring questioned

Deal questioned Mayor Judy Titsworth’s recent hiring of Barney Salmon as the city’s new development services director and whether Salmon serves as a department head whose hiring should have required city commission approval.

“Some people think it was an end-around to avoid having a city manager,” Deal said. “As to adding another layer to the administration, isn’t that what the mayor just did?”

The charter states the mayor needs commission concurrence to appoint or remove a department head or charter official whose position is listed in the charter. The charter doesn’t reference a developmental services director.

Human Resources Analyst Mary Buonagura defended the recent hiring.

“Mr. Salmon is the director of five developmental services. He coordinates work, period. He reports to the mayor just like the rest of the departments do. Mr. Salmon is not going to be recommended to become a charter member of the city. It’s not necessary,” Buonagura said.