By Anne Hassler Heidel
McPherson City Commissioners are weighing the pros and cons of changing the current three-person city commission form of government and have asked City Attorney Jeff Houston to prepare a report on the matter.
Houston presented his findings to the commission during a study session on April 9, 2018. Discussion on the matter continued at the April 16, 2018 study session and a public information meeting has been set for 7 p.m. Monday, April 30, 2018 at the city building. Houston will present his findings and the public will be able to ask questions at this time.
According to the report, McPherson is one of only 10 cities in Kansas with three-member commission forms of government. Mayor-council forms of government are far more prevalent with 555 cities in Kansas organized in this form.
“The commission form of government was hailed by local government reformers as a way to bring a business-like corporate board to city hall,” according to the Houston report. Commissioners are responsible for a particular area of government and considered the head of the departments they oversee. Currently the Mayor (Tom Brown) oversees Administration, finance, police, fire, public health and the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The other two commission positions oversee Parks and Public Lands (Bob Moore) and Streets and Utilities (Larry Wiens).
The report proposes that if the transition was made to a five-person commission with members elected at-large then duties would be divided as follows:
Position 1: Mayor – Admin/Finance/CVB
Position 2: Vice Mayor – Public Safety (Police, Fire, Health)
Position 3: Public Works
Position 4: Land and Facilities
Position 5: Utilities (Waste Water, Storm Water, BPU Liaison)
Some of the cons outlined in the report about the change include:
The public works director would report to two commissioners
If an emergency occurred, the Vice Mayor as head of Public Safety would have the lead and not the Mayor.
Only one member of the governing body would be familiar with BPU operators instead of the current rotation of commissioners
Possible increase in cost for commissioner pay and benefits. Commissioners currently are paid $11,570 per year and provided the opportunity for health care at a cost of up to $13,920 per year. If the size of the commission/council were to increase by two members, the city would either have to decide to decrease the salary and benefits to each member to make it a budget neutral move or incur the extra expense (approximately $100,000 /position/4-year term).
Merits of the plan would include a diversity of voices on the city commission. Majority needed for approval of an item would increase to three instead of just two commissioners.
Sentiment among the current commissioners for the change varies. Commissioner Larry Wiens said his concerns are what the commission is trying to solve by moving to a five person commission.
“If we are trying to be more transparent, will going to five solve that,” Wiens asked in study session.
Mayor Brown said encouraging public participation is something he would like to see and that the News broadcasting commission meetings on Facebook has helped the commission become more transparent. The city is looking into broadcasting study sessions and purchasing software that would help archive and index the meeting videos.
“We have been one of the successes in Kansas,” Brown said. “It would be a shame to lose the commission form of government. It was put in to make local government more business-like.”
Brown said he would hate to see city government become more political and less business-like in manner. Wanting to keep the commission form of government could still be done with five commissioners. Overall the commission was not in favor of going to a council manager form of government.
Read the City Attorney’s report here: Possible Change to Municipal Government Memo