Reader suggests reassessment of government

Published 8:49 am Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Dear Editor:

At the June 16 City Council meeting a response was given to the Letter to the Editor published in the June 6-7 edition of The Daily News. The Letter to the Editor suggested that the City of Bogalusa, with a decreasing population, could not afford a full-time mayor at the current salary of $65,000, soon to increase to $70,000 annually. In the response it was pointed out that Morgan City has a similar population and pays its part-time mayor $63,000.

The public was invited to check out the information, and a phone number was provided. I called the Morgan City mayor’s office and spoke with his secretary. I explained that Bogalusa had a similar population and we were doing a comparison. I asked if their mayor worked 20 hours a week. She laughed and said no, he worked much more and he was required to attend ceremonies and meetings in the evenings and on weekends. She explained that the reason they have a part-time mayor is so that the mayor could legally have another job as well. Their last mayor was a CPA and spent part of his time overseeing his office. The present mayor owned a furniture business. He was at City Hall except when he received a call that he was needed at the store. He has recently sold the business. In checking their budget that is posted on their website, I ascertained that their budget is $39,000,000, which is three times our budget, which is $13,000,000.

When our former City Council debated the pay increase, one argument presented was that an increased salary would better attract a candidate qualified to handle the job. Morgan City took a different approach. Their $39,000,000 budget allowed them to offer a handsome salary, but $63,000 wasn’t enough to attract the quality of candidate they desired. They opted to label the position part-time so that the candidate did not have to take a decrease in income to become mayor.

It seems to me that we need to rethink our charter and form of government. Our government follows the “Strong Mayor Council” plan. According to my research on the Internet this has the mayor responsible for the operation of all administrative agencies and departments within the city. The mayor can appoint and remove department heads and other subordinate staff subject to civil-service provisions where applicable; is not a council member but can veto council legislation subject to the right of the council to override the veto by an extraordinary majority; and prepares and administers a budget that the council approves. The chief functions of the council are to legislate and set policies, pass budgets and bond issues and review mayoral and administrative actions. All of these features can vary under city charter provisions.

Each form has strengths and weaknesses. The mayor-council form has the strength in that you have an elected central authority. This allows one person to be responsible to the people for the whole city government. The main problem with this system is that you can have a mayor who is elected for his or her political acumen but who is a terrible manager. Such a person can significantly harm the way the city is run.

At one time we used the Commission Form. The citizens elected individual commissioners to a small governing board. Each commissioner is responsible for one specific aspect of city government, such as police, public works, health, finance. One commissioner is designated as chairman or mayor, who presides over meetings. The strength of the commission form of government is that it is very democratic and it allows very close attention to be paid to each aspect of city government. Its weakness, though, is that there is no central authority.

It seems that a very common form of government that is increasingly popular is the Council – Manager plan. The elected City Council oversees the general administration, makes policy and sets budgets. The Council appoints a professional city manager to carry out day-to-day administrative operations. Often the mayor is chosen from among the council on a rotating basis. The manager is a hired professional who knows how to run a city. The manager must answer to the Council. This makes this system efficient.

Perhaps now with the city in financial crisis is the time to examine possible alternatives to our current way of governing.

– Lorraine Bourn