Should Florissant Keep Its Strong Mayor System?
This weekend’s Post-Dispatch had an interesting article on Florissant Mayor Robert Lowery. The article discussed at length the political difficulties and fights he is engaged in, but that is not my focus here. I will, however, briefly comment on one aspect of that — the criticism of his work schedule:
Lowery sets his own work schedule, often not getting to City Hall until midafternoon.
I think I have to side with the mayor, here, and not just because I’d like that schedule, too. I have been active in local politics, and I have no doubt that the mayor goes to innumerable nightly meetings of neighborhood associations, community groups, etc. I also believe him when he says that many of his lunch meetings are work-related. His job involves city management, various methods of civic boosterism, and sometimes just returning a bunch of phone calls. If he can do the job successfully from home, work, and the car, then I really don’t think the amount of time he spends in the office is an important measure.
Without going into detail, I think the article’s criticisms of using city workers for campaign purposes are much more valid. But onto the system debate.
Most cities like Florissant have a city manager. There are only two really comparable cities to Florissant in St. Louis County: Chesterfield and University City (where I live). Both of them use a full-time city manager or administrator. If Florissant were to choose such a system, the mayor could focus on the civic and political leadership aspect of the mayor’s office, a set of responsibilities that he is very good at performing, according to everything I have heard.
If the people of Florissant want the mayor to keep some role in daily city operations, they could choose the city administrator form of local government. If they want the mayor to have a very limited role in daily operations, they could choose the city manager form. In both instances, though, the role of the hired professional is to manage day-to-day government operations. The mayor would become more focused on the leadership aspects of the job, and less on the management aspects.
Obviously, the salary of the mayor would likely be cut significantly if either of those options were chosen, but the city manager form of government might be the proper compromise for Florissant. It would entail a limited role in daily operations for the mayor, and — considering the experience he has had as mayor and a police chief — the people might want to continue making use of that value. Here is the Missouri Municipal League’s description of the city administrator position:
The city administrator is employed by the governing body with the approval of the mayor. The administrator serves as the chief administrative assistant to the mayor and has general superintending control of the administration and management of city business and municipal employees, subject to the direction and supervision of the mayor. When the governing body adopts a city administrator ordinance, they may provide that all other officers and employees of the city, except elected officers, may be appointed and discharged by the city administrator, subject to reasonable rules and regulations of the governing body. However, the ordinance may provide that such powers are to be retained by the mayor.
Florissant is a charter city, so it has some latitute in establishing a government that works best for its residents. I think that the city administrator form might be a good compromise for Florissant.