This week a search company held two public forums to find out what qualities we would like in our next city manager.
Considering that for the past 10 years the city went through several city managers and many rocky moments, it’s a process that should have been undertaken years ago.
Hamtramck has had bad luck in its run of city managers. There has been equal blame for this. Some city managers had a deaf ear to the needs of elected officials and the community, and in other instances elected officials crossed many lines of conduct and public discourse.
Some qualities we seek and advice we have for our next city manager includes:
The city charter has very specific rules about the roles of the city manager, city council and the mayor. Some of the rules regarding elected officials are built in to guarantee discord.
In other words, the city charter treats our elected officials as second-class citizens.
For example, councilmembers are told to not interact with department heads, and that any information needed should go only through the city manager.
Why in the world would councilmembers have less access to department heads than residents?
One of the city’s earliest city managers was wise when he said that he knows what the charter rules are, but he would be insane to follow them to the letter.
What we need in a city manager is someone who engages elected officials, who seeks their input.
In another example, the city’s current acting city manager is starting up contract negotiations with police officers. It would be prudent for the acting city manager to first ask councilmembers and the mayor what they would like see in the new contract.
That wasn’t done during contract talks between the former city manager and firefighters, and it caused resentment among some councilmembers who had a different vision for that department.
Even if the city manager disregards the advice of elected officials, at least they should be able to voice their concerns.
In other instances, department heads would be hired without first discussion with elected officials about who the person is and their background, and why the city manager thought that appointee was a good fit.
That, too, caused resentment, and as time went by this resentment built up and up, eventually turning into open hostility.
So what it all comes down to is open communication.
City managers have to remember who their bosses are – who ultimately decides on whether they continue employment here.
Elected officials have to also remember to back off and not attempt to coerce city managers or micro-manage them.
It’s a two-way street. And it’s good to remember government is not a business. Government is a democracy, and sometimes democracy can be awfully messy, loud, rude and inconsistent.
A good city manager needs to be flexible, and be able to read the ever-changing moods of elected officials and the public.