Manvel Charter Review Commissioned

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Manvel council member Adrian Gaspar would like to see a better balance within the city’s administration. Supporting his fellow council member John Cox in promoting the appointment of a Charter Review Commission, Gaspar expresses concern that the City Manager maintains authority that is not sufficiently scrutinized by city council. Making changes to the city charter, he believes, would address that concern.

Cox has expressed his desire for a Charter Review several times but only recently have his fellow council members more seriously considered the issue. Cox was on the original commission charged with crafting the document. As he explains it, “All we did was put the foundation on the ground. There are so many thing we hashed out that the sixteen members couldn’t agree on. Cox feels the charter is in need of “tweaking.” He makes the case that “there are some duties the mayor could probably take over that she used to do in the past before we had Kyle and would relieve Kyle to give him more time to spend with contractors, developers, engineers, and different things.” Cox went on to say that he does not favor changing the structure of the charter but feels there are a lot of gray areas that need to be eliminated. The current charter was approved by Manvel voters in May 2011. It provides for a mandatory review at least every five years but can be done sooner if authorized by city council.

Gaspar feels council “needs more of an opportunity to be involved, and especially when you bring me a packet and I have to make a decision tonight. The charter stripped the mayor of all her power and gave it to Kyle; we don’t have a balance and that is what I am looking for. In the past the council was more involved in public works, the police department, in different areas of the city. Now the council just sits here and we get briefed on stuff and it happened before in council we found out later information that we didn’t have when we made a decision and we got caught with our pants down because the information did not come to us completely. That is why I agree with John (Cox) that we need to modify this charter, maybe not much, but we need more input. It cannot be one leader who does it all and Kyle just telling us whatever he wants to and briefs us on whatever he wants to.”

One issue Gaspar feels strongly about is the city’s hiring and firing process. He favors greater transparency and council involvement in the employment of city personnel. He thinks allowing the city manager to have sole authority over who is hired could lead to workers “being loyal just to the city manager rather than doing the right thing for the community.” He recalled the process went through when the city manager was hired: “The whole council looked at the applications and made a decision on the final 4 to 5 applicants before hiring Mr. Jung. I believe that this is the right way to hire people, not just one person reviewing the applications and deciding this is who I want.”

Jung explained that “in a council-manager form of government, the city council does not have much if any role in hiring the staff other than the city manager, city attorney, and the municipal judge. The form of government sets up the council’s role as a policy making body. Under a council-manager form of government, having more input on hiring is not your role. Your role is to set policy, to set vision, to set direction for the staff and the city, and you provide the resources in order to do that. If something is not getting done the way that you want, you address it to the specific people you hold accountable, the manager, attorney, and municipal judge. You don’t have direct interaction with the staff. If you want to change that, you can do that.”

Gaspar expresses unhappiness in other matters too. He considers the $50,000 spent on a Master Drainage Plan as money “down the drain” as the plans authors are now demanding more money to respond to council’s concerns and questions. Other members express similar frustration feeling their concerns and questions are being stifled from the demand for more money. The city manager explained at a recent meeting that the Plan’s author has met the terms of the contract in both its preparation and presentation and reminded council that it had two occasions to discuss and question the Plan’s recommendations.

Gaspar feels the desire of citizens is being ignored on the discussion of lot size requirements in favor of the subdivision developers. After accepting public comments PD&Z recommended council amend the subdivision ordinance to require larger lot sizes. Current discussions are leaning toward a more diverse offering of lot sizes including smaller 50 foot widths that PD&Z claims are not wanted by current citizens. As Gaspar puts it, “What is hypocritical to me is that we have heavy restrictions on the businesses that come to build here, but god forbid you place restrictions on the subdivisions. To me it’s not about all that (building density and profit), but about giving people the freedom to purchase the home on the lot that they want and not what is imposed on them by the subdivision builders.”

Cox previously expressed his interest in changes as well: “I think we stripped the mayor of all her power and I think she needs to have some of her authority back. I think with the city growing the way it is we are putting too much load on Kyle (City Manager Kyle Jung). I think some of the load needs to be split.” Cox also believes the city should consider compensating the mayor, saying “the work the mayor puts in to this town, there is no reason she should not be compensated something.” Jung told council that it would not be good to split authority between the mayor and the city administrator as nobody would recognize whose role the day-to-day running of the city would fall to.

He also would like to see discussion on possibly paying council members some form of stipend citing most nearby communities that already do so.

Cox believes a review could be accomplished within ninety days. He explained that the original commission took much longer as the group started with nothing and had to sort through numerous examples from other cities to craft the charter that was ultimately presented to voters. “The foundation is there, all you have to do is go through each chapter and if you see something you are not happy with you talk about it.” Each council member has been asked to submit two names for consideration to serve on the commission. Council is expected to decide on the appointment of an 11-member Commission at its next council meeting.

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