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Posted: 08/27/14

Village trustees table manager ordinance

by CHRIS GRAY
Observer Staff Writer
      Potential changes to Romeo's government have been put on hold for another month.
       At its Aug. 18 meeting, the Village Board of Trustees tabled any decisions on adopting a village manager ordinance until its September meeting.
       When the board learned in February that Village Clerk Marian McLaughlin and Treasurer Melinda Rossell would not seek re-election this year, trustees began researching whether a new form of government will better serve the village with the loss of the seasoned officials.
       Since McLaughlin has also been appointed as administrator for the last 28 years, a potential of three new candidates may fill the positions. In response, a committee of Trustees Christine Malzahn, Bob Hart and Ron Rossell brought forward the idea of appointing a village manager.
       "This isn't something new, we're not trying to re-invent something," Malzahn said. "We need to take a look at how to best move this village forward."
       The board voted 4-3 in July to having a draft ordinance put together for a village manager. Village President Mike Lee and Trustees Ron Rossell and Wayne "Skip" Tornow were the dissenting votes.
       With the ordinance in hand, officials continued to dispute whether moving forward with the ordinance was the right step, with some of the debate becoming heated.
       Hart said the intent is to have someone that would take over the administrator duties, not to reassign responsibilities from the clerk and treasurer to a manager.
       "It's not a different form of government that we have," he said. "What the difference is is how that person works, and I would think you have seven elected officials that are managing that person, that is a lot of control that the people have over who's there."
       Village Attorney Mark Clark said if the village does adopt the ordinance, the manager will do tasks that the clerk and treasurer otherwise do according to power given to the manager by state statute.
       "You're going to have to address that in some manner or form, and if you don't, then it's going to be resolved. . .on a dispute-by-dispute basis," he said.
       Malzahn said that the manager ordinance doesn't dictate who the manager will be, so the board could select the new clerk.
       Clark warned that appointing the clerk as manager might cause incompatibility of office issues, as one position is answerable to the other.
       McLaughlin expressed her doubts, saying studies conducted by the Southeast Michigan Council of Government (SEMCOG) earlier this year showed the village running efficiently, yet trustees are still pushing for the manager.
       "If you want to make this change, my recommendation to you is to not do it so hastily, to take a little bit more time and look at it and look at the other positions that are out there and the money you don't have for a village manager right now," she said.
       She explained the village doesn't have any funding set aside to hold a special election if the issue ends up on a ballot due to a referendum. For this to happen, 350 voters would have to sign a petition within 45 days of the ordinance adoption.
       Malzahn argued that many other villages use the manager system. The SEMCOG study showed 11 of 15 communities similar to Romeo use a manager.
       Ron Rossell also referenced the SEMCOG studies, saying the current government has worked well, and that village president appointments have suited Romeo.
       "Just because another community has a way of doing it doesn't mean ours isn't the way for our community," he said.
       The cost of the manager came up as well. In June, the board voted to change the clerk and treasurer salaries and revamp their benefits once the new officials take office. The savings would pay for a $40,000 to $47,000 manager position.
       Both McLaughlin and Tornow said the salary will not likely bring in the qualified candidates trustees are seeking. Malzahn disagreed, saying it may be a challenge, but the Downtown Development Authority was able to hire qualified individuals to serve as directors for a smaller salary.
       Tornow said if the concern is that the village is losing someone with McLaughlin's expertise, the board can move ahead with the new elected officials and see what happens.
       "If the wheels come off the cart, then we can jump through these hoops and push something through and get a referendum and have an election if things fall apart, but maybe they won't," he said.
       Aside disagreements over its viability, trustees questioned the ordinance itself. The draft states the manager would be appointed by the village president and affirmed by the board, but Hart said he would prefer the process to include a hiring committee that reviews resumes and recommends an appointment.
       Trustee Mike Cregar said upon examining the draft, there are items the board may want changed, so he suggested tabling it until the next meeting so the committee can review it.
       "I'm not ready to vote on it, we're kind of spinning our wheels right now," he said.
       When the question of what type of vote is required to pass the ordinance, Clark said only a majority was needed, not a two-thirds majority.
       Public comments were not in favor of the ordinance. Melinda Rossell, the only speaker, said the four board members that supported the ordinance were former Downtown Development Authority (DDA) members, three of which are past presidents.
       "In the last 10 years the DDA has hired seven directors, yet these four wish to interview and hire someone to be in control of millions of dollars and our well-being," she said.


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