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Posted: 05/28/14

Village trustees still undecided
on govt reorganization

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Romeo officials will determine how to proceed with a possible restructuring of government now that roles have been clearly defined.
       The Village Board of Trustees agreed as of May 19 to continue looking into whether reorganizing village government is the right move since the long-time clerk and treasurer will step down this year.
       The next step will be to put together a timeline with legal counsel on when any decisions would need to be made. The results of a May 27 subcommittee meeting on the matter were not available as of print deadline.
       Marian McLaughlin, the village clerk and administrator of 28 years, and Melinda Rossell, treasurer for 21 years, will retire this year, causing trustees to research whether village government should be restructured after losing the experienced officials.
       This could include changing their positions to appointed as opposed to elected, or switching to a council-manager form of government and establishing a village manager position.
       Dave Boerger, director of the Southeast Michigan Council of Government's (SEMCOG) Local Government Efficiency and Effectiveness program, has worked with a subcommittee of Trustees Bob Hart, Christine Malzahn and Ron Rossell since April to assess Romeo's operations and financial information.
       The analysis included sitting with McLaughlin and Rossell to compile a list of their duties. McLaughlin's roles as clerk and administrator took up nearly two pages when including special projects, totaling 2,974 hours a year. The majority of the clerk's time is 520 hours dedicated to answering questions of clients, customers, village officials and employees.
       The clerk receives $49,198 a year, while the administrator position earns an annual wage of $19,475.
       Rossell's page-long list of duties total 1,524 hours a year, with the majority (208) used to maintain custody of all village funds. The position pays $29,612 a year.
       "This gives you a sense for Marian and (Melinda's) replacements and what they'd have to do and how many hours they'd have to spend in order to effectively do their jobs," Boerger said.
       The village does employ a deputy clerk and secretary to the clerk, but neither were examined. Boerger noted, though, that the village's administrative staff is below average<1.5 for every 1,000 residents compared to the state average of 6.1.
       "Your administrative costs are very efficient," Boerger said.
       The board would decide compensation and benefits for the positions. Boerger's study revealed the average wage for clerk is $45,818, administrator is $81,851 and the treasurer typically makes $46,812.
       Hart said the compensation for Romeo's clerk and administrator aren't enough to compensate for all the responsibilities, which could cause problems in the future.
       "I don't think we could go and say `well we want you to do all these administrative things,'" Hart said. "We would need to have more funds to pay somebody to do that job."
       Trustee Rossell agreed, saying the clerk's salary is in line but the administrator is below average. Trustee Mike Cregar said the village has done it this way to run government efficiently.
       For benefits, Boerger said most communities use a transferable 401k program and Heath Savings Account (HSA) to save on costs. McLaughlin said the HSA is now in place for the village.
      
Appoint or elect

       Boerger provided an updated organizational study from last month's meeting that compared Romeo to 15 other similarly-sized communities, including Armada, Dexter, Holly, Oxford and Almont. Of them, four elect their clerk while the rest appoint the position. For the past 50 years, Romeo has appointed the clerk to also serve as administrator.
       Three of the communities elect the treasurer and 10 fill the position through appointment.
       Of the 15 communities, 11 appoint a village manager. Boerger said little data is available on the effectiveness of village managers, but said cities and towns have switched to it because it "diffuses the power of special interests and eliminates partisan politics from municipal hiring, firing, and contracting decisions," according to the International City/County Management Association.
       "Here in southeastern Michigan there are so many cities that I think communities tend to migrate toward a city/village manager concept," he said.
       Changes would need to be made to village ordinances to switch to the council-manager form. The issue could go before voters if at least 10 percent of registered voters signed a petition.
       Despite questions from trustees asking for recommendations, Boerger said SEMCOG would only provide information for the board to use in making any decisions.
       "We wouldn't be in business for 45 years if we were in the job of trying to direct the political process," he said. "That is your job, you have a better touch with the community to know what's right with your staff."


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