There was something that jumped out at us from the Moulder and Associates’ description of the Ottumwa city administrator’s job, which was released Tuesday.
“The City Administrator,” it read, “is responsible to the Mayor and City Council for the administration of municipal affairs to ensure effective and efficient service is consistent with the directives and goals of the City Council.”
The city administrator is not responsible to the mayor. Only the city council has the authority to hire or fire the administrator. Ottumwa’s system gives no authority, zero, to the mayor to oversee the city administrator. Such oversight is the sole responsibility of the city council.
The city’s own website says that explicitly: “The City Administrator is appointed by Council to carry out policy and oversee the day-to-day operations of the City on behalf of the City Council.” There is no mention of the mayor’s office.
Ottumwa’s city code makes the same thing clear: “The form of government of the city is the mayor-council form of government.”
Iowa Code Chapter 372.4 explains the mayor-council form of government. And it is explicit about who a city administrator or manager works for: “The council may, by ordinance, provide for a city manager and prescribe the manager’s powers and duties.” There is no mention of any mayoral authority over the position.
Does the mayor have authority over any staff? Yes. The code allows mayors in the mayor-council form to “appoint and dismiss the marshal or chief of police.” But even that comes with the explicit proviso that “The mayor is not a member of the council and shall not vote as a member of the council.”
Sending the message that the city’s next administrator is in some manner beholden to the mayor isn’t just an innocuous statement that the person will need to get along with city officials. It’s a statement of power. Enforcement of such a stance is contrary to state law. It is the council that holds the power in Ottumwa, and that must remain the case.
It seems unlikely the line was an accident. It seems more in keeping with the continuing accretion of power within the mayor’s office, actions that have included the shift to four-year terms for the mayor, the legally dubious placement of the former city administrator on leave, and the proposal of the mayor as interim city administrator. It fits the pattern too well to be easily dismissed.
There is no question that both state law and the city’s own code severely restrict the authority of the mayor in Ottumwa’s form of government. The fact those restrictions seem to be under repeated challenge in recent months is disturbing.
We are deeply concerned by the trend we see emerging from City Hall.