The predictable end to the Paul Stansbury saga at Danville city hall came Friday evening with the announcement that the commission will settle out of court with its recently suspended, now officially “former” city manager to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000.
It was none to soon for the many Danville residents tired of the drama, the latest in a series of 3-2 majority power grabs in city politics played out with the dismissal of a competent professional. But it was a disappointment to those who thought a courtroom fight might be good for the future of the city manager form of government, not just here but across the state.
Kentucky's statutes are sorely lacking in their clarity and strength on this issue, beginning with those dealing with the office of "mayor." We think the best way to make the intent of the regulations clear is to abolish that title altogether for cities choosing this form of governance, for despite what the statutes say, some have been insistent that the mayor has more power than is intended.
On the city's own website is the following description of the mayor's role: "The Mayor in the City Manager Plan, outside of his position as a member of the Board of Commissioners is only the titular head of the City."
It goes on to cite KRS 83A.150, which says the mayor has "no regular administrative duties" and that his only duty outside his role of conducting meetings is to execute the obligations authorized by the commission — bonds, notes, contracts, administration of oaths.
The best thing to compare a city manager form of government to in Kentucky is a local board of education. The school board hires a superintendent (city manager) to conduct its day to day affairs, a person required by law to be highly trained and qualified to hold this position. The board elects its own chairman (mayor) to conduct meetings and sign necessary documents on its behalf.
There is no confusion about who has the authority to do what. You won't find the chairman of the school board giving orders to the high school principal. You won't find a school board member drawing up bus routes for the transportation director or telling a teacher how to keep her students on task. In other words, no elected official can use his or her power to the benefit of one constituency over another.
That's not to say school board governance has no problems, or that politics is totally absent, but those issues are held at bay because of the structure. And the structure is stable in part because of the minimum requirements for hiring a superintendent.
That is another area where Kentucky statutes fall short in defining the city manager form of government. The statutes say qualifications for the city manager are set by the commission, but they must include "professional training or administrative qualification, with special reference to actual experience in or knowledge of accepted practice regarding duties of the office."
The statute is vague enough to imply that if you simply know what a city manager is supposed to do, you could be deemed "qualified," and to give commission wide latitude in the hire.
Imagine a publicly held company with a multi-million dollar budget hiring a chief operating officer on those qualifications. You could almost be president of a corporation if you played one at West T. Hill. The statute should be more explicit in its requirements, at least calling for a degree in public administration or the equivalent, just as a school superintendent must have the proper training and certification to administer an operation of that scope.
At least now the commission can get on with whatever agenda this majority has in mind. The voters will be watching with interest as it selects a new city manager — assuming there is a qualified candidate out there willing to take this job.