Voters to decide future of mayor's 'fire at will' authority
The city's strong mayor/weak council system could be diluted after next week's election. Voters will decide if the City Council should approve the hiring and firing of Duluth's chief administrative officer and city attorney, which is currently do...
The city's strong mayor/weak council system could be diluted after next week's election.
Voters will decide if the City Council should approve the hiring and firing of Duluth's chief administrative officer and city attorney, which is currently done at the discretion of the mayor.
The city's judge-appointed charter commission unanimously voted in July to make the changes, but they could not be made law without approval of the City Council or by public vote. The council voted both charter amendments down during an Aug. 13 meeting, paving the way for them to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot as referendums.
Charter commission member Andy Peterson, who is also director of public policy for the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce, helped draft the proposals, both of which were made in part due to controversial actions taken by Mayor Herb Bergson, he said.
When the mayor fired his former administrator by taping a note to his office door, Peterson said charter members worried future administrators wouldn't be able to question the mayor's decision-making without fear of reprisal.
"In order to attract a good CAO, if that person can be dismissed readily, that person may not want to come to Duluth if they worry about job security," he said.
Dan Maddy, president of the Charter Commission, said the proposed charter amendments are aimed at insulating future city administrators from city politics.
"It should provide stability to the office," Maddy said. "The mayor will have to explain why a city administrator is being fired. It's not a huge change, we don't think. They will still work for the mayor."
Peterson said Charter Commission members also were concerned when current city attorney Bryan Brown said he felt he could not investigate Bergson for illegally giving confidential documents to the News Tribune because he served at the mayor's discretion.
"If a mayor were to get in trouble, it's important for the attorney to say: 'I can investigate this without being fired,' " Peterson said.
Mayoral candidate Don Ness agreed.
"The city attorney is a shared position between the council and the mayor. Their job is to serve both bodies," said Ness, who voted for both measures as a city councilor. "When we get to these points of conflict, the mayor's ability to fire at will gives that person an advantage in what is supposed to be equal access to that office."
Not everyone sees it that way. Current Chief Administrative Officer John Hall said he's opposed to the changes, while Bergson said if voters support the changes, history will show it to be "a grave error."
"It gives more power to the chief administrative officer than the mayor in that change, and that person wasn't elected by the people," Bergson said. "It will allow two employees to cozy up to the City Council and avoid being completely answerable to the chief executive officer [the mayor]."
As for the attorney not being able to investigate a mayor, Bergson noted that the council has the power to hire an independent attorney should a conflict arise.
This may be one of the few issues on which Bergson and mayoral candidate Charlie Bell agree.
"You put nine people in a position to undermine the authority of the mayor," Bell said. "There has to be a good solid working relationship between the city attorney as well as the chief administrative officer to provide the leadership that this community needs to have."