Sulphur citizens group suggests getting rid of mayor's position - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Sulphur citizens group suggests getting rid of mayor's position

(Source: KPLC) (Source: KPLC)

A city without a mayor may sound a bit foreign in Louisiana, but it's a style of government that some other municipalities in the U.S. prefer. Now, a citizen group in Sulphur is recommending the city get rid of the mayor's position in favor of a city manager.

"We've been meeting for a little over a year," said Tab Finchum, one of six on the Home Rule Charter Committee - a citizen group that is offering its recommendation to change the city charter. 

The group was originally chosen by the council to make these changes, meaning it was subject to open meeting rules just like the council. The group decided to become a "citizens group" instead in order to meet in private and not be held to the same rules of posting meeting dates and quorum, according to Finchum. Those in the group are Tab Finchum, Louise Nichols, Phyllis Wilson, Tina Willoughby, Ginger Moss and Jesse Fontenot.

"Our goal was to provide a basis or groundwork for this discussion to get started," said Finchum, "It wasn't designed to be the final proposal or final decision but we wanted to put everything in there that needed to be changed or needed to be debated or brought out to the public."

Its recommendations include several items like council term limits and changes to salary, but the biggest change is restructuring Sulphur's government.

"The concept is very widely used throughout the country," explained Finchum, "Some of the largest cities in the country use it - Dallas, Phoenix, Las Vegas."

He's talking about a city manager-council style government. While the some of the cities mentioned still have mayors, they serve on the city council, while a city manager supervises all city departments and executes the policies adopted by the Council.

The proposal from the Home Rule Charter Committee is similar however, it does away with the role of mayor completely. 

"It seems to me that it makes more sense to take a professional administrator, a professional manager of some type that says 'this is the rules, this is the will of the city, then it's my job is to execute it.' I don't have a political voice in it, I don't have a side in the battle. My job is strictly to execute the will of the elected councilmen," said Finchum. 

Think of this manager-council government as a business - your citizens or stakeholders are represented by a council or a board of directors. 

"They hire a CEO who has an experience running that sort of business and they tell them the direction they're supposed to go," said Finchum.

Just like a board of directors, the council would have the ability to hire and fire the city manager.

Dr. Joshua Stockley, a political science professor at the University of Louisiana Monroe, says it can take politics out of the equation.

"City managers tend to be more if you will, certified managers, individuals who have been trained in public administration," explains Stockley, "They are less political, more administrative and the argument is that produces a better form of government or an expertise form of government."

However, he says councils can take longer to make some decisions, and require more consent to get things done.

"Larger communities have found it more efficient to have a strong mayor, someone who can act quickly and decisively and if you will represent the city," said Stockley.

Sulphur Mayor Chris Duncan is against the move.

"It takes away from the citizens of Sulphur voting on who they want to be their leader in the community and it puts it in the hands of the council," said Duncan, "I'm not for it. I think the citizens have the right to choose who they want their leader in their community to be."

Duncan does, however, support public meetings to discuss it and says ultimately it's up to the people of Sulphur. He does point out that the discussion comes at what he calls an "interesting time."

"They just proposed a pay raise for the mayor, then this came out from the citizen's group for the change of government, and now, this could possibly be on the same ballot as the election coming up in March," said Duncan.

Mayor Duncan is running for another term in that March 2018 election, and State Representative Mike Danahay also plans to throw his hat in the ring.

"It has its pluses and minuses," Danahay weighs in on the debate, "It's something worthy of discussion, and they need to have great public input on this if they decide to do it or not do it. So until that time, we will just see what takes place."

When asked if it were not a mayor's election and instead a city manager job opening, if he'd apply, Danahay said it's something he'd consider.

Stockley agrees public feedback is key.

"The focus should be less on the structure and more on the people who occupy the structure," said Stockley, "Do residents prefer a strong legislative branch in the form of a council or do they prefer a strong executive branch in the form of a mayor?"

That's the question the public will be asked at meetings the city council plans to hold, according to Councilman Stuart Moss.

Moss and Finchum both 7News there's not enough time to get public feedback, before the deadline to place the charter changes on the November ballot. 

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