As population growth continues in Hyde Park, city officials are asking questions about the best way to address the city’s administrative needs.
“Hyde Park city is currently at a place where we have enough things going on within the city operations day to day that the need for a more present and available administrator is growing more and more critical to our success as a city,” said City Council Member Mark Hurd.
Some of the other council members agree with Hurd that changes are needed to ensure the city can navigate the challenges associated with growth, but not everyone agrees that hiring a city manager is the solution.
Council Member Brett Randall suggested during a council meeting on May 8 that a city manager could be a good step forward.
“As Hyde Park continues to grow, Hyde Park continues to struggle with policies and procedures that are antiquated,” Randall said. “Sometimes people that do the job part-time, to include the mayor and the City Council, they don’t have the time in the day to be up and on the current policies and procedures.”
Randall said this lack of up-to-date information spreads to other area,s such as human resource management and current laws. According to Randall, this creates a power vacuum in the decision-making process.
Randall and Hurd said the discussion on whether or not Hyde Park should have a city manager has been going on for years, but that the current iteration of the conversation began months ago.
The two stressed that the issue’s resurfacing predates a conflict between council members and Mayor Sharidean Flint over the handling an incident earlier this year when two employees quit after the public works director, who they say pointed a gun at them during a meeting, returned to work after a six-day suspension.
But Randall said he believes that entire incident may have been avoided if there had been a full-time management position within the city.
“It brought to the forefront the fact that we are one of only very few cities in the valley that is our size that doesn’t have a manager,” Randall said.
Mayor Flint has a different view on when the city manager conversation began. Flint said following the incident with the public works director she began discussions on updating the city’s personnel policies to better match state code.
These discussions, Flint said, are what led to the suggestion of hiring a manager for Hyde Park. Flint, the city’s first woman mayor, said she interpreted the comments made at the May 8 meeting as a proposal to take power from the mayor and give it to the council.
“I personally do not believe that stripping the mayor of all authority and power and giving it to the City Council is a good idea,” Flint said. “On the principle of the thing, you don’t concentrate power, in our form of government, in one person or in one body. It’s a really bad idea. That is why we have the separation of powers and the checks and balances on every level of government.”
Flint said she is unsure that hiring a city manager is the right decision for the city at this time.
“There is the potential for a city manager to accumulate more power as a non-elected official than the elected officials, so that concerns me,” Flint said.
Flint also said she is concerned about how much it would cost the city to have a manager. However, she did say hiring a part-time administrative assistant may be helpful.
No comment was made at the May 8 meeting that explicitly suggested the mayor’s power would be taken away if a city manager was hired.
During the meeting, Randall said that if a manager was hired, he envisioned this person being directed by the council and not the mayor.
“The mayor would still be elected and carry the title of mayor and do the mayorly duties of presiding at these meetings, setting the agendas, giving out tiaras and going to the subsequent events and representing the city in that mayor capacity,” Randall said. “But the day-to-day operations of the city would fall under the direction of the city manager at the behest of the council and not the mayor.”
UNDER STATE CODE
Hyde Park currently has a six-member council form of government. As such, the mayor is considered a nonvoting member of the council because they only vote in the case of a tie.
According to Cameron Diehl, the executive director of the Utah League of Cities and Towns, state code provides the outline for all the duties of a mayor.
Mayors cannot be given more authority than is outlined in state code, however, a city council can delegate some of the mayor’s authority to council members or city staff through ordinance.
If a city council chooses to do this, it must be done through a public process where community members are allowed to provide input. When the ordinance is voted on, the mayor is allowed to vote.
In order for the ordinance to pass, the council must vote unanimously or the mayor must vote in the majority. If the ordinance has a majority vote but the mayor votes against it, the ordinance will not pass.
“When you hire a city manager and create that framework of authority, that is done by ordinance,” Dihel said.
If the council wanted to give the manager administrative or executive authority that had already been delegated away from the mayor, the mayor would not vote on that ordinance unless there was a tie.
If the council wanted to delegate authority that the mayor currently held to the city manager, the mayor would vote on that matter, which would require a unanimous vote of the council members or the mayor voting in the majority to pass.
As far as who the city manager would answer to, Dihel said this can vary depending on how the mayor and council choose to structure an ordinance.
In many cases, Dihel said the city manager answers to the mayor, however, city ordinance could have the city manager reporting directly to the council or to a combination of the mayor and the council.
“What makes sense for Hyde Park may be different than what Providence does or what North Logan does, and that is OK,” Dihel said. “Figure out what makes the most sense for your community and then engage the public and act in that official capacity to create some framework.”
THE NEXT STEPS
Whether or not the Hyde Park City Council chooses to hire a city manager, the process will likely take time. This year is a municipal election year, and come January there will be three new council members as no incumbents made it through the nominating process to be on the ballot.
If the council makes plans to hire a city manager, different council members may be voting on the proposal depending on how long it takes the ordinance to be formulated.
One of the candidates in the upcoming election, Kirk Brower, wrote a letter to the editor expressing his concerns with hiring a city manager and said during the city’s nominating convention that he was currently opposed to the idea.
Other candidates did not speak specifically to the idea of a city manager but highlighted their desire to support transparency in city government and to promote smart growth.
Flint said she is unsure of whether the issue would be better solved under the current council, whose members have experienced some of the challenges the city is facing, or if new council members with a fresh view would bring a better solution.
“In some ways, it might be better to wait until after we have some new people, perhaps, that may be able to look at it and have some different ideas that are not tainted by emotions,” Flint said.