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Council Administrator Position Continues to be Divisive

Article Date: 
1 October, 2010 - 06:00

It was a divided discussion in the work meeting at the county building on Tuesday night.  The meeting included most department heads in the county as well as nearly all of the elected officials.  One of the main items on the agenda was the council administrator position.  The council was seeking information from the department heads and elected officials prior to considering the next steps for the council administrator position.  Chairman Creager said, “As we prepare ourselves to go into an advertising process, one of the purposes of this work session is to receive input from each of you and your departments on how this position could assist you in your responsibilities not to mention the responsibilities of the council.”
There seemed to be little support for the council administrator position from anyone other than the county council.  Chairman Creager asked each of the elected officials first, and then moved to the department heads.  
The discussion began with Stacy Lafitte.  Lafitte said, “There seemed to be a lot of confusion in the job description as to whether this person was council administrator or an economic development director…I have never understood the role, really, how it related to economic development.  My need was more for help within the building, those things related to the org chart, those things related to personnel with communication between the departments and council members.”  Lafitte expressed that she felt that economic development was secondary.  She expressed the desire that the position be focused on coordination with the departments and the issues she had enumerated.  She communicated her preference that the economic development portion of the position be eliminated.  She suggested that perhaps the county should contract to an outside person the role of economic development.  She also added that while the administrator position, on the org chart, had responsibility for several individuals in the county government, that the departments did not function in this way.
When the position was established one of the primary focuses of the council was on economic development.  In fact, the salary of the administrator position is paid completely from the economic development budget.  This request from Lafitte, if implemented by the council, would be a major departure from the council’s position in the past.
Sheriff Ercanbrack said, “My department probably had the least amount of interaction with the position and I didn’t see advantage under him.”  The council administrator had been given responsibility for the county fleet to try to provide coordination between the departments.  The Sheriff expressed that he felt the fleet was managed as well when the Sheriff’s department managed their own fleet as when it was centrally managed.  Council member Kelley observed, “It wasn’t just the Sheriff’s office that had vehicles…We felt like we were getting different requests from different people and it was hitting our budgets pretty hard.  Especially when we were thinking that we needed to do two or three vehicles for the Sheriff’s office and we would come in with requests for six or seven vehicles.  We felt that this was a good decision to take in putting it under the county council administrator position so we could have a better view going towards the budget and in the future of where we were with our budgets with all the departments.”  Kelley reported that one of the vehicle transactions from the Sheriff’s office created significant problems with the budget in the past and that the central management of vehicles and decisions helped to eliminate some of these problems.  Lafitte reinforced the value of this central fleet management in reducing the counties expenditures on vehicles.
When asked about the council administrator position, county treasurer Bonnie Thomson replied, “Well, as far as what the position did for my office, he bought me a real nice book at Christmas, but nothing other than that.”  Thomson questioned the value received to the county citizens from the position.  She said, “I look at the fifth class counties around the state.  Out of the seven of them with a population under ten thousand people, just the same as us, I just have to ask the question, ‘How come they can all operate? Us and Grand County is the only county with this form of council administration/council form of government and I just wonder why, why we can’t operate with just the council or the commissioners?’”
Councilmember Kelley said, “I don’t want to debate that, but I would ask that you go back and look at what salaries those council members and commissioners are getting.”  Thomson replied, “I guess my comment for that, Tina, is that I don’t think that these positions have ever been about money.  They are about fulfilling a civic duty to your community.”  The council members in Morgan County are paid $6,000 per year.   The council chairman is paid $8,400 per year.  Thomson’s salary is $47,286 per year.
Attorney Farris expressed concern about potential liability for this position.  The position had been referred to, by some in the session, as a county administrator.  Farris said, “That was the underlying problem in 2008 when the county looked at getting this.  I clearly told them, ‘You cannot have a county administrator.  Your form of government is a seven member council.’”  Farris expressed the desire that the position be called an administrative assistant or secretary position.  
The council has the authority to hire department heads.  There are heads of departments for planning and roads already in the county for which there has been no dispute.  This position, in the council’s view, is little different from these other supervisory positions already in place.  
As the discussion progressed there was little support from any of the department heads.  They felt that there had been value in the position, but questioned whether they might be able to operate as well with a direct relationship with the council.
Sheriff Ercanbrack also requested that the council wait to make a decision on this position until the investigation currently underway relating to Garth Day was concluded.  He felt that there might be learning from the outcome of the investigation that would influence this role in the county.
In the end the decision will likely revolve around the value the council sees in this position.  The council has the ultimate authority on whether this position will be filled.  Council members have expressed broad support for this position in the past and have communicated that this position was a significant resource to help a part time council who, by the structure of the county government, are not supposed to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the county.