On November 10, Cheyenne voters decide whether to scrap a system that allows them to choose the person in charge of city affairs or to give that authority to a majority of the city council. I’ve listened to the debate and find no facts to support the contention that the current system is not working.
I will vote no for these reasons. First, proponents failed to demonstrate there is a need for the change. Second, the change will isolate, if not remove, the city’s chief decision maker from voter accountability.
This ordinance appears to be the product of a small special interest group who haven’t always gotten their way with the current mayor. A wholesale assault on the way the people of the community choose those who run it is not the way to address that problem.
The change-agents are asking you to give up your right to directly elect the man or woman responsible for operating Cheyenne and to turn that responsibility over to an appointed bureaucrat who will work for a majority of the council, not for the voters. What could possibly go wrong?
Proponents argue that unelected city managers are removed from politics. That’s the problem. The city manager would be ground zero in most political battles, only farther removed, even isolated from the influence of voters. Today, if the voters are unhappy with city administration, they can change the person at the top. Under this proposal, voters lose that ability. My fear is this move would concentrate power in the office of the city manager.
Supporters say that if the professional bureaucrat isn’t doing the job, the council can fire that person. Have you ever seen that process? It’s a political circus when the council tries to get rid of a city manager. The council is made up of nine individuals, each of whom will have their own personal relationship with this person in power. Just watch those who want to fire a bad one try to get the five votes necessary.
Here is the crux of the problem. Those who favor the change haven’t offered any specific evidence that the current system doesn’t work. What we’ve heard are vague, theoretical arguments about how hiring a high-priced city manager might make things better.
Supporters of a city manager system tell us mayors may not have the management skills of professional administrators. Cheyenne’s current mayor, Rick Kaysen, whom voters gave a second four-year term, is the former president of Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power Company. That position required significant management skills.
Since 1971, the voters of Cheyenne have elected their mayor. With perhaps one exception, the voters have chosen well. Without naming names, that one mistake was promptly rectified at the following election.
Over the years, our mayors have had the necessary administrative and leadership skills. The community has thrived. A handful of developers may not have gotten their way all the time, but the city is safe, attractive and well maintained. The mayor and council are responsive to the voters. Cheyenne provides a platform for economic growth and is as livable as any small city in America.
When voting on November 10, remember this idea wasn’t put on the ballot after thousands of Cheyenne voters petitioned the council to make the change. This came directly from a few special interest folks to a vote of the council. There was no widespread grassroots clamor for such a monumental change.
Councilman Dickie Shanor claims, “The most compelling reason why we need to have this election, because people are so passionate on both sides. So many people have an opinion and so many people want to have that vote to voice that opinion and it’s time we gave them that opportunity.”
That may be true of the small circle of folks with whom he drinks coffee but that “passion” is not evident elsewhere in a community that seems pretty happy with a system that allows us to decide who is in charge of city operations.