Don’t Direct Staff Without Permission, City Manager Reminds Council

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday November 06, 2007

Council rules are clear: councilmembers and mayor may not direct city staff to perform any task—at least not without the city manager’s intervention. 

And so a city manager’s memo last week sparked questions about which councilmembers might be overstepping their boundaries.  

The memo stated: “a few staff members have been involved in work assignments for council members ... Direct requests from individual members can cause uncertainly in priority setting and can cumulatively impact the goals that the council as a whole has set for the city.” 

“I assume the memo’s mostly directed at the mayor,” Councilmember Dona Spring told the Daily Planet on Friday. “His office involves city staff in so much of Tom’s [Mayor Tom Bates’] off-agenda work.”  

Spring said she was referring to the mayor’s solar initiative, for which he engaged the work of staff from a number of departments as well as outside bond counsel, all on the city’s dime.  

The manager’s memo might also refer to the mayor’s task forces, such as the health, budget and green business task forces for which the mayor uses city staff, Spring said, noting that Bates’ task forces often parallel city commissions. 

Mayor Bates did not return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon. 

“There’s an ad hoc government going on,” Spring said, noting that when she requests staff attend her community meetings, it takes weeks to get a response from the manager’s office.  

Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it’s not just Bates who makes liberal use of staff people. “Historically, the mayor gets away with this all the time,” he told the Planet on Friday. “City managers have historically been quite deferential to mayors.” 

City Manager Phil Kamlarz, however, told the Planet that his memo does not target any particular councilmember. “It’s the same memo I send out every couple of years,” he said. “It’s hard for new staff people to say ‘no.’” 

As long as the mayor or a councilmember goes through his office, they can request staff work, Kamlarz said. 

The City Charter says: “Except for the purpose of inquiry, the Council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the city manager, and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any of the subordinates of the city manger, either publicly or privately.” 

As for giving preference to the mayor or particular councilmembers, Karlarz said: “I have staff work with all councilmembers. It’s all about managing the workload. It’s hard enough having one boss—but impossible with nine.”