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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

City managers and City matters: an addendum to our 2013 story of the year.

On May 3rd, Downtown Birmingham Bloomfield Magazine published an article  titled "Who is minding our municipalities." The article was based on interviews  with the managers  and  referenced  a  35 page study,  Michigan Local Government Structure, Services and Practices.  That is  which is available on line. To read it in its entirety just click on the underlined  link above.Published in 2002 it offers models to categorize various types of  municipal governments.  

The study, and the models presented in which the City Manager as a trained professional is given high stature; and the concurrence of the Birmingham City manager, who likened his role to  that of an orchestra conductor, perhaps prompted  the  the Magazine to write..

Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills are cities,with professional city managers running their cities, followed by non-partisan city commissions which is elected by the public. Mayors in Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills are considered "ceremonial", chosen from among their fellow commissioners for a year to primarily run meetings and marry people."

In the battle to preserve the City's Public Safety Dispatch unit, despite what the text books, say the role of Mayor McClure's  was hardy ceremonial. Three commissions were in favor exploring the option.One was absent and yet the mayor's viewpoint despite being the only dissenter, eventually prevailed. That was a point of our story which we believe was the story of the year.

The concept of a "ceremonial" mayor gains credence under the current mayor Pat Hardy. She has often advocated the rotation of the position of mayor, among the commissioners as a reward for years of service. Last November for the first time in two years, only one candidate was nominated for Mayor and only one for Mayor Pro tem resulting in two unanimous votes. 

In the opinion of this publication a rotation to reward commissioners serves the elected while putting  the City and its residents at jeopardy. That's because a mere two votes under the wrong mayor could drastically alter the City. That was also one of the points of our story.

Downtown Magazine describes the following pecking order,  a Professional City Manager running the City  followed by a City Commission elected by the public. 

Actually the people come first because they elect a City Commission who then hires or fires the professional manager. 

Recently in the City of Birmingham it was the City Commission that after a confusing set of circumstances decided the  to let City Manager Bob Bruner's contract expire. Bruner was highly regarded and his rapid rise while serving four municipalities, duly noted. Unfortunately perhaps for both parties, the perceived protocols of negotiating a contract while considering other opportunities ran afoul of the perceived protocols of loyalty.

The Eccentric newspaper quoted a woman as saying "He did something that really (annoyed) those (on the Birmingham City Commission) who were inclined to keep him. Honestly I don't think he was a good fit for Birmingham. He cut the public out of the  process too often. It is all good to be efficient, but I want Government that wants its Citizens to participate.

That woman knows the correct pecking order. The Eccentric did in fact describe her as a long time government watchdog.  

Such citizens in the City of Bloomfield Hills are in short supply which is why we write these articles.

When the order of citizens first, elected officials second, and city (staff, consultants and special interests etc.)third gets out of whack a text book model of how it should be is rather useless.

That is because by then a determination has made. The powers that be, have decided that interests of the second and third tiers,  are of prime importance and therefore allowed to by pass or trump those of the residents.

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