SHERIDAN — Sheridan City Council passed two charter ordinances clarifying the duties of the city administrator on second reading Monday, but the decision sparked tensions between Mayor Roger Miller — who voiced his continued frustration with council’s decision to leave the city administrator’s authorities largely unchanged — and members of council.
Both ordinances passed 6-1, with Miller as the dissenting vote on each.
Miller campaigned, in part, on his opposition to the city administrator position when he ran for mayor in 2016 and has repeatedly called for the position to be eliminated since he took office.
When the city created the role in 2015, it assigned duties related to the day-to-day operations of the city — which had previously been performed by the mayor — to the city administrator. That change, Miller argues, undermined the public vote by taking authority away from the popularly-elected mayor and entrusting it to an unelected official.
Previous city councils rejected Miller’s protests, but the current council decided to consider the matter earlier this year. After Council President Clint Beaver raised questions about the legality of the charter ordinance the city used to create the city administrator role — Charter Ordinance 2158 — council appointed a subcommittee to review the ordinance and recommend changes that would clarify and, if need be, restructure the authorities assigned to city officials.
The subcommittee drafted Charter Ordinance 2202, which allowed the mayor more oversight of the city administrator but left the administrator’s control over the city’s day-to-day operations intact. Council passed the first reading of CO2202 earlier this month and the second reading Monday night. City attorney Brendon Kerns proposed council pass a related ordinance, Charter Ordinance 2189, which would clarify several other city ordinances should CO2202 take effect. CO2189 would not change how those ordinances function — as CO2202 would take precedence over any conflicting ordinance — but revise their language for the benefit of citizens reading through the city’s codes.
Council also approved the second reading of CO2189 Monday.
But Miller does not believe the revisions amount to a substantive change.
CO2202 defines the mayor as the chief executive of the city but, Kerns explained, that title does not authorize the mayor to unilaterally manage city staff. The ordinance gives the mayor oversight authority, which means the role can request information on the city’s operations for the purpose of evaluating them.
For example, the mayor can ask city staff to explain its street-cleaning schedule, but cannot order staff to clean certain streets, Kerns said. The city’s governing body — the mayor plus council — can, however, vote to issue orders to city staff. Miller said that arrangement does not address his objections to the city administrator role.
“The point of the matter is, is that the mayor is not the operator of the city at all,” Miller said. “…And so the executive aspect really still is only kind of a title as far as operations go.”
Council Vice President Thayer Shafer — who served on the subcommittee that drafted CO2202 — took issue with the mayor’s insistence that he be given more unilateral authority.
“(You have to) coordinate with the staff; you do that with the city administrator, with the department heads, as a group,” Shafer said. “That’s why you have a staff. Otherwise you’re trying to be an emperor.”
After council approved the two charter ordinances, Miller again urged council to reconsider its support for the city administrator position. He noted that Sheridan’s previous 51 mayors successfully ran the city without a city administrator and said he believed the city should continue that tradition.
“I want to make sure that as we move forward, that we do not forget that heritage and the importance that the mayor role has for this community and all communities,” Miller said. “Let’s not mess with that so much that it devalues the mayor of any city, much less the mayor of the city of Sheridan.”
Councilor Jacob Martin — who also served on the CO2202 subcommittee — disputed Miller’s characterization of the impact the city administrator position has on the power of the city’s mayor.
“I don’t think this diminishes the value of the mayor,” Martin said. “Basically it puts (the role) in a higher position to focus more on policy.”
Martin further noted that several previous mayors supported the creation of the city administrator position and have indicated the role would have benefited their administrations.
“You’re just the odd one out. I wish you just trusted council a bit more on this,” Martin said.
Miller replied sharply and said council is ignoring the fundamental principle of his objection to the administrator role.
“And to have comments thrown out like (Martin’s) and like Thayer’s today is just an insult not only to me, it’s an insult to every mayor that’s ever walked these streets of the city of Sheridan,” Miller said. “And those are the kinds of nonsense comments that need to stop. We need to look at the facts of the matter.”
As Miller’s response to Martin grew heated, Councilor Patrick Henderson called a point of order.
“I think we’ve heard this, repeatedly, for years, from you,” Henderson said. “…And I don’t think we’re going anywhere with this banter.”
Council is expected to consider the third and final reading of both CO2202 and CO2189 at its July 1 meeting. If council elects not to finalize the two ordinances, CO2158, the ordinance that initially created Sheridan’s city administrator role, will remain in effect.
• Council voted 5-2 to approve a lane reconfiguration test on Main Street this summer; Councilors Richard Bridger and Aaron Linden voted against the action. City Engineer Hanns Mercer explained the city plans to reduce Main Street to three lanes — one lane in either direction and a dedicated left-turn lane — allowing the city to gauge the effect the configuration has on traffic and explore opportunities to utilize the extra space created by the lane reduction to benefit downtown businesses. Mercer said the Wyoming Department of Transportation will collect quantitative traffic data through the duration of the test and present that data to council when the test concludes. City staff is still working with WYDOT to finalize the timeline for the test, but Mercer said he anticipates it will take place some time in August.
• Council approved increases to water service, sewer service and solid waste collection and disposal utility rates.
City Utilities Director Dan Roberts said the increases will offset relative increases to the costs of operating Sheridan’s utilities due to inflation. Roberts said water rates will increase by 2.5%, which will add roughly 63 cents to the average Sheridan resident’s water bill; sewer rates will increase by 2.75%, which Roberts said will add roughly 56 cents to the average Sheridan resident’s sewer bill; and solid waste collection and disposal rates will increase by 2.95%, which will add roughly 58 cents to the average Sheridan resident’s bill. The water and sewer rate increases will take effect Jan. 1, while the solid waste rate increase will take effect July 1.
• Council voted to expand the city’s Building Fee Incentive Program, which offers building permit rebates for permits in sections of the city.
Council increased the amount of funding in the program from $25,000 to $30,000 and widened the geographic scope of the program; the city has traditionally offered rebates for permits in the Historic Downtown area, but the expanded program will extend that opportunity to permits in the city’s entryway corridors.
• Council voted to renew the city’s agreement with Sheridan County School District 2 on the creation of the Sheridan Recreation District and the operating agreement between the city and the Sheridan Recreation District for one year.
The city intends to discuss SRD’s proposal to restructure through the course of the new contract.
Council unanimously re-approved its agreement with SCSD2, but Miller cast a dissenting vote on the city’s operating agreement with SRD; he did not offer an explanation for the vote.