Ordinance amendment leads to heated city council discussion
January 22, 2023
As members of the Alva City Council worked their way through a somewhat long agenda, tempers began to fray as disagreements arose. A discussion on amending a city ordinance, just before an executive session on a business manager contract, seemed to test the patience of some councilmembers. The agenda suggested removing a limitation of two years on the term of office for the business manager to instead be a period of time determined by the council.
“I think this should be a standalone thing,” said Mayor Kelly Parker. “We either believe we should be able to negotiate longer terms or we don’t believe we should be able to negotiate longer terms and that’s why this is on here.”
Troy Brooks asked, “Why was two years originally chosen to begin with? Was it a safeguard?”
“I wasn’t around. I’m not going to speculate on why they chose two years,” answered the mayor.
“I’m going to say that logically it doesn’t make any sense,” said Daniel Winters. “Really, we have the right to terminate with cause at any point, even under an agreement.”
Randy Stelling suggested, “Two years is probably common.”
“It’s in line with the elections,” said Winters. Municipal elections are held every two years with offices being held for a four year term.
City Attorney Drew Cunningham said, “I have looked at some of the surrounding towns like Cherokee, Enid, Fairview. I couldn’t get Woodward ordinances to pull up. But those three have no term on theirs. They leave it to the council to decide.”
“I can’t think of a good reason for a two year term,” said Winters. “Frankly, I think it has the potential to discourage somebody from wanting to take the position because very easily their contract is not renewed after an election.”
Stelling suggested the ordinance was just boilerplate. “It might have been common. I don’t know that it was ever addressed when the city adopted this.”
“I think it’s probably a safeguard though,” said Brooks.
“I don’t know,” said Taylor Dowling. “I kind of question the logic that we should change the law because we don’t have a specific reason why it shouldn’t be that way, you know what I mean? If we change this we would agree that we would want a business manager that doesn’t want to abide by the current laws of our municipality.”
“That’s not what this does,” said Parker. “It says we can negotiate a one-year, two-year, ten-year, whatever the council deems appropriate in the circumstances.”
“I think Daniel made a good point,” commented Dr. Garrett Lahr. “It does deter a lot of people. If you’re only guaranteeing me two years, I wouldn’t leave my job at Northwestern.”
“But if you went into that field knowing that’s pretty common, I mean, it’s politics generally when there’s a changing of office,” said Dowling.
“Well, every position I’ve held, too, I’ve always been told by my person that it takes at least 12 to 18 months to have just learned your job to where you’re not feeling like you’re drowning,” said Sadie Bier. She said in two years, a new business manager would just be getting the hang of it.
“Approving this amendment does not prohibit this council from negotiating a two year contract,” said Parker.
“It certainly makes it more likely though,” said Dowling.
“It makes it whatever the council decides,” said Stelling
“I mean hopefully we won’t keep rotating city managers every two or three years,” said Bier. “That’s the ultimate goal because we really need one.”
“I think the city manager position is one where you know what you’re getting into, and you know you’ve got to hit the ground with your feet running,” stated Dowling. “And I don’t think we should necessarily tolerate a business manager that doesn’t see it that way. I think if we have the right business manager who believes he can do the right job, he can say, ‘Oh, I can handle that. I don’t need four years to figure it out. I can do it in two.’”
“I think as Daniel says you still have the right to terminate someone if they’re not doing their job,” said Lahr. “It’s not like we’re saying they’re locked in for five years if that’s what we agree to, and we can’t ever get rid of them for that five years. There’s still a termination clause in their contract.”
“You’re right. I guess I would just fear that by removing an amendment like this it would encourage us to add contractual language that might encourage them to stay longer than two years based off of severance package,” said Dowling.
“Is that a problem? Is it a problem wanting to retain your staff?” asked Winters, raising his voice. “I mean every corporate business in America’s goal is to retain staff as the cost of turnover is significantly high. We’ve gone a year, almost a year, without a city manager.”
“Look how much Kelly (Parker) has done,” added Lahr.
“I know, for free,” Winters said regarding the mayor’s added responsibilities. “I’m sorry, but to encourage the turnover of staff is counter-productive and counter-intuitive. It’s absolutely asinine. I motion to approve Ordinance 2023-001.” Bier quickly seconded the motion.
Dowling interjected, “Can you see no way to improve the work environment so they stay longer, promise them more money …”
Parker interrupted him, stating he had a motion and second to approve the ordinance. He then asked if there was any discussion. After hearing only silence, Parker said, “Please call the vote.” Brooks abstained, and Dowling voted no. The other six councilmembers voted yes, and the ordinance was passed.
Since there was no emergency clause, Parker said, the ordinance does not take effect until 30 days after publication. It was published in the legal notices of the Alva Review-Courier on Jan. 20.
Executive Session; No Business Manager Hired
Next on the agenda was a vote to hold an executive session to discuss a business manager employment contract. Dowling voted no on the motion to go into executive session.
The room was cleared of everyone except the mayor, city council members, city attorney and minutes clerk. At one point during the session, which lasted over an hour, the business manager candidate was called in.
Following the return to open session, Parker announced no action would be taken although they had a productive conversation. So Alva is still without a city business manager.
During the three and one-half hour meeting, the councilmembers approved some amendments to budgets. Resolution No. 2023-1 recognized an increase in revenue for the Library Department from a Department of Libraries grant and an ARPA printer grant. It also noted an increase in revenue for the Fire Department due to an Oklahoma Forestry Rural Fire grant. A transfer of $120,000 from the general fund to the Alva Airport account as part of the repayment of borrowed funds was also recognized. In addition, the General Fund transferred the swimming pool donation cash and current year donation and interest revenue and expense to the Alva Economic Development Authority (AEDA) budget where it will be under the oversight of the Alva Parks and Recreation Board.
Resolution No. 2023-2 recognized the change in the AEDA budget with the addition of the swimming pool funds and expenses.
Resolution No. 2023-3 showed the decrease of $120,000 from the General Fund and increase of the same amount in the Airport Fund with the transfer. After the transfer, the Airport Fund will have a balance of $1,720. It was explained that this is not the entire repayment. It was not until Dec. 31, that the city was sure they had the entire amount required to repay the borrowed money. A further transfer can be expected at a later date.
A video of the meeting may be viewed at http://www.AlvaReviewCourier.com.