City Structure Debate is not a Referendum on the Current Mayor

FullPartTime.GIFThe debate to modify our ordinance to a part-time mayor form continues to steep in the minds of council, staff and residents. While many cite the past to justify our current form, this is not a referendum of today, this decision prepares our city for the future.

It is well known that Cedar Falls City Council is taking necessary steps to reduce costs in light of the looming fiscal challenges. With input from the community, city staff is coordinating the effort with thoughtful and thorough analysis of alternatives.  

While Cedar Falls has been fortunate to have mayoral consistency for the last three decades, the looming political and economic uncertainty requires serious introspection.  Among many options, staff recommends that Council amends our ordinances to convert from a full-time to part-time mayor to save money and improve political efficacy. Staff’s excellent white paper of the pros/cons would lead one to quickly question why this hasn’t happened already!

Some suggest this discussion amounts to a referendum on Mayor Crews – it is not.  In fact, each time his name or his MayorPTFTpoints.GIFperformance is cited as a reason to maintain the status quo, it should be admitted as evidence against the current form.  Cedar Falls has been lucky. We have a mayor that committed his life’s work to public service, who subjects himself and his family to a biannual career and financial insecurity.  He has done a respectable job by most measures. But to think for a moment that the city’s fortunes are a result of one man would be naive at best.  At worst, it would be an insult to countless public and private leaders that have tirelessly contributed to the city’s prosperity and civic pride without material compensation.

Comments like “Cedar Falls is not broken and therefore doesn't need to be fixed” are a bit misguided in context of organizational evolution.  This mentality has led to the destruction of many good companies and countries.  Venerable Kodak did not plan for a digital world, they are bankrupt.  Muammar al-Qaddafi was ranked the best benevolent dictator of modern times in a recent New York Times’ piece, we all know how that turned out. I am not directly comparing Cedar Falls to Kodak or Libya, but in each case, these institutions failed to forecast their future and became irrelevant in the process.  

Others will point out that the Mayor is a community leader and is very visible.  This is partly true, yet past performance is not a guarantee of future results.  The Mayor “can be” many things to the city.  It is also true that the current Mayor serves on several non-city boards and commissions.  So do countless leaders across our community, but they do it on their own time and under their own volition.

Our ordinance outlining Mayoral duties is rather vague on all requirements.   In fact, most defined mayoral duties have been allocated to professional staff.  So in essence, Cedar Falls has a paid meeting attender and hand shaker with scant leadership opportunities.  But even on the point of leadership, it will always be tempered by polls and special interests if the goal is political survival.

With the ordinance amendment under consideration, we formally adopt a city manager form.  The city manager remains directly accountable to mayor and council.  Taxpayers save a material amount of money with no change in city services.  That’s our goal.

We should all be thankful that our current Mayor is altruistic.  He would likely cut off his arm for the City and only request an inflation adjusted salary increase and a vote in return. But it isn't fair, nor is it practical to assume a different man or woman will give of himself as Mayor Crews has.  I know with near-absolute certainty that we will never have another candidate like Mayor Crews.  It is a biological impossibility.

We are facing very uncertain times, and politics thrives in uncertain environments, normally not to the benefit of the governed. We are exploring this change now because it will save potentially $70,000/year.  But we need to be reminded that this is merely a consequence of the right decision.  The real logic is to eliminate political uncertainty, to create a city structure that will effectively respond to the complexities of government, to match the salary to the expectations of the ordinance, and to formally adopt a professionally managed city. This is not about Mayor Crews, whom I respect and admire.  This is about a more certain and prosperous future for Cedar Falls.

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  • William Witt
    Mr Councilman, I agree with you: Cedar Falls Mayor should be a half-time position. Your comments about the civic generosity of so many citizen-leaders are right-on, as are your observations about the key role of the city’s professional staff in maintaining excellence in planning, operations, and administration. And we do have a deeply committed and dedicated public servant in Mayor Crews, however as you astutely observe, we cannot and should not build a city governance model on the personality and character of one exemplary individual.

    Two suggestions: first, make the change to part-time mayor & city manager for the mayoral term that begins in January 2016. Second, enhance the role (and stipend) of council persons; as the mayor’s role is downsized, we need to increase the effectiveness of our other elected officials in terms of knowledge of policy, procedures and budget, and especially in administrative oversight and direction.