There are issues aplenty in Peoria. Where will money come from? What services may have to be cut? Where will the museum be? What will Main Street look like? The list goes on.
Yet it would be dangerous to lose sight of a most important issue facing the city at this point: the selection of the new city manager. And central to that is the role that person—and the city council—will have in addressing the multitude of issues.
Replacing someone with the professionalism, accountability, and accessibility Michael McKnight brought to the office is a daunting task. He has deftly steered this city through not just seven years of change, but seven years of progress.
So the city begins the search for a person of innovation—a self-starting professional with a proven track record. Peorians should have every expectation of attracting the best person available.
At the same time, it’s important to do some self-examination and envision how that best possible person would look upon Peoria as the best possible position.
Certainly, he or she would be impressed by the city’s own definition as “a thriving, active and expanding community with people and opportunities that make living and working in Peoria very rewarding. It offers residents many amenities of larger cities without the negative aspects of city living.”
Attractive as that is, the candidate’s main concern will be the role of the city council vis-a-vis the city manager:
- Does the council recognize—and accept—its role as the policy-setting-head of the city?
- Will all members of the city council allow the manager the necessary freedom to administer the day-to-day operation of the city?
After that, the candidate will examine what’s happening in the city:
- A council-appointed task force is looking into the delivery of city services. This very detailed look into city operations will “suggest” changes that the council will “approve” and the city manager will “implement.” Not only may a candidate see this as an unsettled situation, he or she may question why the task force isn’t “suggesting” to the manager instead of the council.
- Various city department heads will retire soon. A good candidate will look upon this as an opportunity to forge his or her own team—to interview and select replacements who will see themselves as contributing members of the city manager’s team. A good candidate will want assurances of that loyalty from both replacements and the council.
It can be easy to take for granted anything that works well. And make no mistake about it, the council-manager form of government has served Peoria well. Progress—often hard earned—is a direct result of the professional management city managers have brought us. And that progress is a result of the forward-looking policies that have come from the city councils over those years.
This is hectic time in Peoria’s history. Nothing wrong with that—except that such times often overshadow the need to occasionally reflect on what we have and see where we’re heading. Few times in a city’s history demand that reflection more than the times when it selects a new city manager.
Sacramento, Calif., defines the implementation of the council-manager form of government as: “The City Manager is appointed by the City Council on the basis of executive and administrative qualifications and serves at the pleasure of the City Council. The City Manager is responsible for the effective administration of the city government much like a CEO is responsible for a corporation. Among his many duties is to administer and exercise supervision and control over all offices, departments and services under his or her jurisdiction; to make recommendations to the Mayor and City Council as he deems appropriate concerning the operation, affairs and future needs of the city; to participate in all City Council meetings without the right to vote; and to keep the City Council advised on the operation, finances and needs of the city.”
Worth reflection. IBI