SHERIDAN — Mayor Roger Miller said last week he is frustrated with what he describes as an unwillingness among members of city council to address his concerns that the duties and authorities of positions within city government are unclear.
On May 21, Miller sent an email to members of council, city administrator Mark Collins and city attorney Brendan Kerns that described a meeting he had with Collins and Kerns to discuss the mayor’s authority in the city government.
“During our conversation it was explained to me that I, as Mayor do not have and can not make any decisions in reference to the daily operations of the City,” Miller wrote. “These Duties and Authorities have been taken away for the Mayor’s Duties and Authorities and have been assigned by council to our Administrator via Charter Ordinance 2158.”
Charter Ordinance 2158 officially established the city administrator position and shifted the city government from a strong-mayor government, in which the mayor has almost complete administrative control, to a council-manager government in which administrative duties are given to a city administrator who answers to the mayor and city council.
The ordinance was passed in April 2015 and signed by then-Mayor John Heath.
The debate over the city administrator position has been contentious in Sheridan. City council approved the hiring of a city administrator in 2007, but the decision was overturned when residents petitioned for a special election and voted down the decision. Citizens attempted to push for another special election in 2015 but could not gather enough signatures to force the issue.
Proponents of the decision argued that a city administrator would ensure experienced and consistent management over the day-to-day operations of the city, as the mayor of the city changes and different mayors bring different levels of administrative and government experience to the role.
Opponents, however, contend that the city administrator is not an elected position and dilutes the mayor’s authority, which effectively limits the impact of the voters’ choice in the management of city government.
Miller was outspoken against the decision to hire a city administrator as a candidate for mayor in 2016 and, in his email, notes that his opposition has not changed.
“As you all know, I completely disagree with Charter Ordinance 2158 and have requested that it be repealed in it’s entirety,” Miller wrote. “As you also know I’m the only one of us in favor of repealing ordinance 2158 as it is a complete back door around the voting public and CO2158 is unnecessary…In short, there is little Authority left inside the City operations for the Mayor’s Office which significant affects the Mayor’s ability to act quickly and decisively on behalf of the City.”
In an interview with The Press, Miller said he was not, however, asking council to eliminate the city administrator position, but to clarify and define the duties, roles, authorities and responsibilities for the mayor, the city administrator and city council in Sheridan’s city government. He stressed that his issue was not with Collins or any action Collins has taken as city administrator, but what he sees as a vague delineation of responsibilities and authorities in the city government.
Collins did not respond to a request for comment.
Miller said council, however, has been, and remains, reluctant to take up the issue. Without naming names, he said the majority of the council does not want to take action on the matter.
“I’ve been trying to talk with council for a year and five months now about, ‘What is my job?’” Miller said. “Recently, several of the council members basically said they don’t want to hash those details out. But that’s literally our only job; we’re policy makers, we’re supposed to do this stuff.”
Council President Kelly Gooch and council Vice President Richard Bridger did not respond to requests for comment.
Miller said much of the lack of definition in roles and authorities comes from the language in Charter Ordinance 2158.
“In my mind, the mayor should be the head of the city and the city administrator should have managerial power, not mayoral authority,” Miller said. “But that’s not the way the ordinance is written.”
According to Charter Ordinance 2158, the city administrator is “responsible to the mayor for the administration of all departments of the city; and to supervise the functions of such departments; to issue such administrative regulations and outline general administrative procedures applicable to all areas and departments.”
Specifically, Miller identified the first point under section two of the ordinance, which is headed “City Administrator — duties and authority, generally,” as one of the passages that is unclear.
“The City Council and Mayor shall deal with the administration of the city through the City Administrator,” the ordinance reads. “The Mayor and governing body shall issue directives to the City Administrator concerning the policies and/or operations of the city to be accomplished.”
Miller said that passage is unclear as to whether both the mayor and city council can issue directives to the city administrator, or if directives need to be issued jointly by the mayor and council.
As an example of the confusion the ordinance’s language has created, Miller said early last year he asked Collins to gather information on how the decision to introduce fluoride into the city’s water was made but received push-back from members of council who did not want to take the issue up again. Miller said he was told he would need at least three council members — a council majority — to support his directive before Collins would move forward.
“What I’m being told at this point is that I have superintending authority as the head political official of our governing body and our council,” Miller said. “So I’m effectively the chair of council. But when it comes to specific, directive action, council as a whole has to vote on it, or we have to come to a consensus of the council members to do something very simple, which I think is ridiculous.”
Miller is asking that these issues be clarified by creating concrete job descriptions for the mayor, city administrator and city council and to include those descriptions in a government handbook that would govern the day-to-day operations of the city.
But, Miller reiterated, council is not currently discussing those issues.