First, I want to establish that this letter represents my personal position alone and is in no way the official position of the city council or of any part of the city government. I have lived in Sheridan for 32 years after retiring as a colonel from the U S, Army. Since I have been in Sheridan I have interacted with the mayors on various issues that arose as we grew from a town of 13,000 to almost 19,000 people.
When I came, there were a number of unpaved streets; we had a largely unregulated “dump” and there was no money to replace 75-year-old infrastructure (including some wood and lead waterlines); we had a dark yellow/brown inversion layer hanging over us in the winter; and we thought we were doing just fine. Then came the Environmental Protection Agency breathing down our necks with the Clean Air Act ($7,500 per day fine if you don’t clean up your inversion layer) quickly followed by the Clean Water Act and a whole string of ever more stringent unfunded or underfunded regulations. Since then we have made great strides. Our population has increased by nearly 30%; our infrastructure is up to date and greatly expanded to include supplying water to much of the population of the county; our schools are among the very best in the nation; and we are attracting new light industries with higher paying jobs. All this takes lots of interaction and coordination.
This leads to my point. Like it or not, this isn’t your father’s sleepy little town any more.
The last four mayors all pleaded to have an administrator. Two of them developed health issues that nearly killed them. One called in a department head and then the director of public works to help with the administrative coordination and workload to the detriment of those individuals’ regular work. Many times those mayors found that they had to be here handling routine administrative work when they needed to be in Cheyenne or elsewhere representing the needs and interests of the city.
The mayor is the elected chief executive of the city. He chairs the meetings of the Sheridan City Council and coordinates with the administrator on the work of the staff. He is responsible for writing the administrator’s annual performance appraisal and reporting it to the council. Like the mayor, the council is elected by the citizens to be their representatives in the governing process. The council works with the mayor and the administrator to develop near and long-term goals for the future of the city, establish policies and pass such ordinances as are necessary. The mayor and the council hire and if necessary, fire the administrator.
The administrator is not a “city manager.” In a city manager form of government, the city manager is the chief executive of the city rather than the mayor, who is then relegated to being the ceremonial face of the city. (Sheridan actually tried a city manager form of government in the ‘50s, which didn’t work out and has left a bad taste in the mouths of citizens for over 60 years.) This confusion of the administrator with a city manager comes from the fact that the administrator “manages” the day-to-day workload of the staff in their administrative work. The administrator does not manage the city. The administrator is a trained and certified professional with a track record of experience and lots of contacts to consult with when previously unforeseen situations arise.
When we hired Mr. Collins he had over 25 years of experience in city administration and was serving a similar function as a vice president of the University of Wyoming. I believe he has saved the city the cost of his salary many times over in the three years he has been with us. It took two lists of candidates and the better part of nine months to find him and negotiate his contract. Though we wanted him in place in August/September of 2016, his duties at the university did not wind up until the end of November.
The fact is that citizens who give their time and talent to serve our city as mayor or council members generally have little or no knowledge of the complexities of the day-to-day operation of a municipality in this day and age. Having an experienced administrator in place is a valuable asset to keeping things on track through the transition period after an election and helping the newly elected as they get their feet on the ground. For this reason, all of the major cities in the state with the exception of Cheyenne have gone to having an administrator or have switched to a city manager form of government. Cheyenne is now looking at adding an administrator.
Ordinance 2202 was passed by city council to a) include reference to a state statute that should have been included in Ordinance 2158 and b) to add clarity to the duties and relationship of the positions of mayor and administrator. While 2202 replaces 2158 as long as it is in effect, it did not take 2158 off the books and it will remain in effect if 2202 is defeated.
The last two and a half years have been the most productive in advancing toward long-term goals established by prior councils and mayors who laid the groundwork for today’s successes. I urge you to vote “yes” for 2202. If you vote no, I suggest that you run for city council and give your time and talent to your fellow citizens to make our fair city the best place to live in the USA.
Thayer Shafer has been a member of Sheridan City Council since 2014.