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Posted: 07/30/14

Trustees vote 4-3 for
village manager ordinance

Ordinance to be reviewed in August

Observer Staff Writer
      Romeo may change to having a village manager governmental system following a close vote on July 21.
       The Village Board of Trustees passed a motion to draft an ordinance for creating a village manager position. The ordinance will be reviewed by the board in August.
       Village President Mike Lee and Trustees Ron Rossell and Skip Tornow were the dissenting votes.
       The board has discussed governmental reorganization since Village Clerk and Administrator Marian McLaughlin and Treasurer Melinda Rossell announced in February they will not seek re-election.
       The village administrator, who is appointed by the president, has historically been the clerk, so trustees are using the opportunity to examine Romeo's government structure.
       Trustee Christine Malzahn said she would like to have someone that answers to the board as a whole as opposed to just the village president.
       "I think that right now the way things have set up in my two year's experience is there is a lack of communication on what happens on a daily or weekly basis in that village office that us trustees aren't necessarily made aware of," she said.
       Malzahn said she believes the board can collectively look at and choose the best candidate. To do so, the board would hire a village manager.
       "It's formalizing the duties that our village president has historically assigned to the administrator," she said.
       Village Attorney Mark Clark described the administrator position as the "secretary to the president" who carries out the president's directions when they aren't there.
       "It's not an assignment of authority, it's an assignment of tasks," Clark said.
       Conversely, he said a village manager is an assigment of both authority and responsibility. Only by passing a village manager ordinance could the board assign responsibilities to someone that elected officials would otherwise handle.
       "You can't do it without following the statute, you can't say we're going to create a manager position and call it an administrator so we don't have to follow the statutory procedure," Clark said.
       Trustee Bob Hart was supportive of a manager, saying he would like to hire someone through reviewing resumes and their qualifications.
       "It's an important job, and I look at it from just a pure business viewpoint," he said. "If I were running this like a business, that would be the way to do that."
       Ron Rossell and Tornow questioned the need for making a change, noting that recent reports from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) show the village is running efficiently.
       "We will spend more money and have somebody here that may not even be familiar with our community," Ron Rossell said.
       SEMCOG also showed that 11 out of 15 communities similar to Romeo's size use a village manager.
       Trustee Mike Cregar said running a village has become more complex and requires more skills and education than in the past, so the board should at least examine the option.
       "This is kind of a turning point for us, and we're all responsible to make sure the village continues to go in the right direction," he said.
       McLaughlin said the village once hired a manager, but they quickly left the position and caused "a horrible experience for the village."
       "What I'm saying is, just be careful that you don't repeat history and the same mistakes," she told the board.
Managing costs

       The salary and benefits of a village manager would be covered by a $76,000 savings realized by adjustments to the salaries of the clerk and treasurer.
       In June, the board approved of changing the clerk's annual salary to $40,000 and the treasurer to $28,000 following the election. The positions would have 401(k) plans with 5 percent match and healthcare benefits.
       Lee objected to the ordinance due to the board not having a chance to thoroughly review the salary data Malzahn had written on "Post-It notes."
       "You're adding a new pension and medical," he said.
       He also asked if the ordinance was in response to his running for the clerk position this election. Hart said they were looking at reorganization prior to his candidacy.
       McLaughlin expressed doubts about the salary range trustees are presenting.
       "I don't know that you'll find a full-time manager for $45,000 to $47,000 with health benefits," she said.
Up for a vote

       Clark said he would investigate whether the ordinance requires a two-thirds majority of the board to pass.
       Should the board approve of the ordinance, the issue could be placed on a ballot if 10 percent of registered voters signed a petition asking for such action. Voters would have 45 days to submit the petition.
       McLaughlin said the deadline to have the issue on the November ballot has passed, so the village may have to pay for a special election if a referendum was successful.

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