Live by Political Appointment, Die by Political Appointment
Kansas City’s city manager, Wayne Cauthen, is out of a job after a majority of the KC City Council surprisingly voted to remove him from office yesterday. We don’t talk about city managers too much on the eastern side of the state. St. Louis city does not use one at all, and many of the largest suburbs in St. Louis County either don’t have one (Florissant) or use a city administrator form (Chesterfield, Kirkwood, Wildwood), an arrangement very similar to a city manager, but one that gives more power to the elected officials. Add in the unincorporated population of the county, and my guess is that only about 1/5 of the county’s residents live under a city manager form of government. (A couple of the largest suburbs, like University City and Webster Groves, do use a city manager.) It is my understanding that the city administrator form is used more often by cities in St. Charles County, too, but I am not certain of that.
Kansas City, however, is one of the largest cities in the country to make full use of the city manager system. The job comes with a great deal of power, and in many ways the most important role of the council is the choice of the city manager. But city manager’s have short life spans. I could compare it to prime ministers in parliamentary systems of government. One day you are the most powerful person in the country, then something goes wrong, you lose a no-confidence vote, and you are out just like that. Margaret Thatcher sort of went out in that way. The analogy might work better if Wayne Cauthen had access to nukes.
I have no idea whether he was a good city manager. My guess is that he was, but the nature of the job is unstable. You get hired by one group of politicians and then, when power changes, who knows whether you are still wanted? I wish him well, and I think we can all agree that being escorted out of city hall by security was a bit much.