It’s not a new dilemma for cities across Ohio.
Is a community better served by an elected mayor, a sole person with "strong" powers to lead and manage a community, or a professional city manager to manage day-to-day affairs, reporting to a council of elected leaders?
The answer can be challenging and, unfortunately, often gets clouded by the personalities involved at any one moment. We’re seeing evidence of that in Streetsboro this fall where Mayor Glenn Broska and some members of council are quarreling over his power. The result, so far, is a series of charter amendments being placed before voters Nov. 7.
Among the issues is whether the mayor should be able to fire department heads without council approval and whether council can get rid of the mayor "without resorting to the judicial process or a recall election." Another amendment would give Streetsboro’s mayor the same benefits as other full-time city employees, including sick time and personal days, and a pay raise.
Critics contend the package of issues is really asking voters whether Streetsboro’s current balanced mayor-council system should be scrapped in favor of a stronger mayor with broader powers. Council would still need to consent on legislative matters, including budgets and spending.
This is a critical question as Streetsboro continues to grow. At the same time, Ravenna’s Charter Review Commission has discussed whether a city manager would be better than the current strong mayor arrangement.
To us, it really boils down to the size of any community, the complexity of challenges and desire of the residents.
While mayors can serve communities well, it’s also true that some lack the leadership skills, understanding of government’s intricacies and legal training to be successful. And then there are the politics involved in any mayoral administration. A good mayor can perform well for four years to be replaced by someone who may not fare as well and can’t be replaced for years.
Consistency is clearly one potential benefit of the city manager system, as we’ve seen in Kent for more than a decade.
Many community leaders find it reassuring to have a city in the hands of a trained professional who better understands everything from the legal requirements cities face to the unique services it provides, everything from policing to sewers. Others object to the cost of paying such a paid professional, although we normally find those concerns to be unfounded.
Another plus is that a manager works for a council of normally seven people, who all have one vote in setting the manager’s agenda. If the manager is not performing, council can vote to terminate immediately. A mayor, at least in Kent, presides over city council meetings and works closely with the city manager.
The real key for any city, though, is finding a common community vision where a consistent majority of leaders — mayor or manager, city council and community stakeholders — agree on a general direction, even if they disagree on some issues.
"It’s just a matter of getting the right people to the table and working together as a team," Kent Mayor Jerry Fiala told us recently.
That’s probably the bigger challenge in Streetsboro today regardless of who holds the power.