Our Opinion: Decisive question for City Council members

City Council members addressed reasonable questions, but not the decisive question, during discussion Monday about a proposal to create the position of assistant city administrator.

The post was proposed as an option (during what we believe was an improper closed session) to combine the positions of finance director and information technology (IT) director. In addition, a city employee, Bill Betts, was promoted to the position, although it has not been created by the council.

During discussion Monday, Third Ward Councilman Bob Scrivner questioned whether vacating the finance director position would violate the City Charter.

City Attorney Drew Hilpert advised the action does not violate the Charter provision, which specifies a “fiscal officer.”

We agree with Hilpert. The action does not violate the letter of the provision, although it may violate the spirit of the Charter, which was designed to vest power in the elected mayor and council members.

Another question — posed by former council member and current candidate Len Stella — is whether the proposed combined position is “too person specific.”

Nickolaus has said the combined post “only works if you use Bill Betts.”

Council members must consider the wisdom of restructuring city government based on existing employees.

City officials may counter that a second national search for a finance director produced no appointee from among 73 candidates. If Jefferson City is unable to attract qualified candidates, however, perhaps it needs to examine its own operations.

Ultimately, the question for City Council members is what decision advances good government?

Is it wise to combine two of the most important positions in municipal government?

Information technology is a growth area in city government — and everywhere. A story in Sunday’s News Tribune reported on the city’s challenge to attract and retain IT personnel in a highly competitive environment.

Regarding finances, Jefferson City is a $31 million-plus, annual operation involving more than a dozen departments.

The decisive question for City Council members is not what can we do, but what should we do.

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