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Plyman: Manager works for people

‘The community gets the government it elects, not that it hires’

Published: Thursday, June 27, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

DIXON – David Plyman tried to dispel a common notion that the city manager form of government gives too much power to one person.

The Rochelle city manager met Wednesday with Dixon’s seven-member governmental task force, after the panel talked with Tom Ganiere, chairman of a similar study done in Ottawa to evaluate its form of government.

The task force is charged with studying the various forms of government and recommending to the City Council the best fit. Members plan to have their minds made up by August, then debate the recommendation among themselves.

Plyman was the second city manager to visit with the task force. Sterling City Manager Scott Shumard met with the group a week ago.

The city manager form of government gives an administrator powers by law and makes him the chief executive officer of the city.

“The community gets the government it elects, not that it hires,” Plyman told the task force.

He explained that the City Council can hire a manager that best suits it, whether that be a manager that takes charge and gives strong recommendations, or a manager that includes the council in decisions.

Plyman said he’s the latter.

“A city manager serves the council,” Plyman said.

In the commission form of government, which Dixon has now, the City Council holds executive and legislative powers, meaning members oversee selected departments.

The city manager said he has formed various committees, requiring councilmen to serve on them to gain that hands-on knowledge of city departments.

During budgeting, he said he brings city department supervisors into a planning session in front of the City Council, before giving his recommended budget.

“Then, the City Council votes on it, and gets the final say,” Plyman said. “They’ve overruled me before. And they can. They make the decisions, and I tell them how it can work.”

Plyman said he could not speculate about if an administrator would have caught former comptroller Rita Crundwell’s theft of more than $53 million, but he said he’s caught bookkeeping errors when budgetary numbers were off.

Still, Plyman admitted there’s no perfect system.

“I can’t say for a fact, nobody has ever stolen from one of my cities. You put the checks and balances in place, and do your best.”

He advised the task force not to recommend a “facilitator” or an administrator with another title, because that may steer away qualified applicants.

Before Plyman’s visit, Ganiere told the task force his advisory committee recommended Ottawa, which also has the commission form, hire an administrator immediately and adopt the mayor-council form, similar to what Rock Falls has.

That recommendation to go with elected aldermen and a city administrator was made, because his committee thought the city manager government may be too costly, or give too much power to one person.

That committee also reported the commission form was archaic and did not bring enough professionalism to city government.

Commissioners did not act on the recommendation, because the majority did not want change. Discussion during election time sparked the mayor to call for the study, but it drew scarce interest from the public, Ganiere said.

He said the committee thought an administrator would have paid for itself through its efficiency and professionalism.

The mayor’s salary in Ottawa is between $60,000 and $70,000, Ganiere said. Even though the mayor is seen as a part-time position, it became a de facto full-time position in the absence of an administrator, he said.

Dixon Mayor Jim Burke is paid between $8,000 and $9,000.

He speculated Ottawa, with about 18,000 people, would have experienced more economic growth if the mayor had more time to work on economic development, instead of filling in many of the roles that are served by an administrator.

The task force is scheduled to meet with Dixon commissioners July 3 to ask if they are comfortable with the direction the task force is going and pose questions about how their current form of government works.

To attend

The governmental task force meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 121 W. Second St. Dixon City Council members have been invited.

Go to www.discoverdixon.org and click on "Citizens Information Center" or call City Hall, 815-288-1485, for an agenda or more information.

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