Friday, July 22, 2011

Council staff

Since the first council meeting after the passage of the new charter, the council has been working to formalize the structure of this new government. And since that meeting, the council has contemplated having some form of council staff. The council is currently considering two highly qualified candidates and looks forward to the hiring of one of them.

Why does the council need a staff?
The legislative branch of any government has needs that differ from those of the executive. While the mayor has working relationships with many of the knowledge experts in the government, the councilmembers often need a guide to help them navigate the bureaucracy and research issues. The council needs a professional who will provide clear, unbiased advice on issues before the council, to serve as a sounding board for councilmembers as they contemplate an issue. The council also needs assistance in preparing agendas, particularly handling requests for council presentations and facilitating the appearance of experts for council deliberations.

These are all tasks that were done under the previous government and still need to be done under the new charter. Without someone to perform these functions, the council cannot adequately fulfill its duties under the charter. Council staff is a necessary element of good governance.

Is it legal under our charter?
Our charter gives the mayor the power to appoint, discipline, and remove all officers and employees. However, nowhere in the charter is there a prohibition of the council having dedicated personnel. Early in his tenure, even, Mayor Hayward directed the council that Mr. Coby would continue to be a resource for the council. And the charter does not forbid the mayor from respecting the wishes of the council.

True, the council can not send an offer letter, the council can’t sign paychecks. But the mayor can do those things on behalf of the council in the best interest of this city and sound governance.

Do other cities with a mayor-council government have council staff?
Yes. Hialeah has multiple council aides, as well as a relationship with the clerk. Hialeah does not expressly give the mayor the powers to appoint all officers, but it does not give the council the power to supervise any departments.

Orlando has an assistant for each council member, and their charter explicitly gives the power to have subordinates. In Orlando these assistants function much like the assistants for the Escambia County Commission and are paid in a similar range.

The council in St. Petersburg has one administrator and three assistants, but the charter prohibits the council from requesting the appointment of anyone.

Each of these cities has found a way to provide the necessary support to their councils. Each has a different format, and the one this council contemplates is different, too. But if they have found a way to make it work, so can we.

Can we afford it?
During the budget deliberations for the 2011 budget, before the first mayor under the new charter was elected, the then-council provided funding for the mayor’s staff as well as the council staff. The budget was balanced, but the funds for this council staff have not yet been expended. There are sufficient funds in the budget to hire candidates of the caliber the council considered during their recent workshop.

The mayor and city council are all dedicated to providing a strong city and want to ensure that decisions are made with adequate consideration. The council has spoken multiple times about the need for a staff person and has worked diligently toward the hiring of such a staff, including much debate and discussion since the mayor’s swearing in. This council staff is an essential element of good government, which is in the best interest of all the citizens of Pensacola.