Valid Reasons Back Proposed Changes to City's Charter

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Byline: KEN TOLLENAAR For The Register-Guard

REPORTER JOE MOSLEY wrote in the Oct. 8 Register-Guard that the eight Eugene city charter measures on the November ballot will appeal mainly to "the aficionado of the obtuse" and to those who have "an unnatural capacity for the mundane." Even so, at least two of them are exotic enough to have drawn fire from The Register-Guard's editorial staff (`Two charter changes: No,' Oct. 10).

Measure 20-70 requires only that "After accepting the resignation of, appointing, or dismissing a department director, the city manager shall explain to the council the reasons for the action taken."

This does not impinge on the manager's sole authority to hire and fire department heads, nor does it "risk blurring the line between the council and the manager" as alleged by The Register-Guard editorial.

Political Science 101 tells us that there is no fire wall between the council's policy-making role and the manager's administrative role. Public administration experts such as James Svara of the University of North Carolina have long discredited "the standard assumption that there is a simple dichotomy between policy and administration."

The city manager has an important policy role in developing and analyzing alternatives for the council's consideration. The International City/County Management Association, for example, includes as one of its criteria for recognizing a council-manager form of government: "The position (of city or county manager) should have direct responsibility for policy formulation on overall problems."

Conversely, the city council performs certain duties on the administrative end of the policy-administration continuum. The most important of these is to hire, evaluate the performance of, and, if necessary, fire the city manager. The council can hardly evaluate the manager's performance if it lacks knowledge of how the manager carries out what is arguably the most important managerial duty: to hire and fire city department heads. Measure 20-70 simply ensures that the council gets the information it needs to do its job.

The Register-Guard's editorial staff also doesn't much like Measure 20-71, which requires the city manager to appoint a full-time city attorney who could not engage in the private practice of law. The present charter gives the manager exclusive authority to decide whether to provide city services with city employees or to contract them out to private firms. In the case of legal services, managers for the last 31 years have chosen to contract for legal services - most of them with the same local law firm. …