A proposed city charter amendment requiring the Takoma Park city manager to live inside the city was changed Monday night to a proposal that would give the city council the power to create an ordinance requiring or preferring where the manager lives.
Residents largely opposed the original idea, contributing to the council’s new proposal.
Resident Roger Schlegel, who said he has a masters degree in public administration, said he does not think the city manager should have to reside in Takoma Park.
While people may want the city manager to share the city residents’ values, “we are a diverse community” with a variety of values, Schlegel said.
Frances Phipps said it would be naive of the council to believe that a residency requirement would not “severely limit” the candidate pool.
“While we like you to be idealistic — that is Takoma Park — we don’t want you to be naive,” Phipps said.
Former Mayor Kathy Porter said a preference for residency would be better than a requirement.
“In effect, you are deciding that the residency requirement is more important than the other requirements,” she said.
Robert Lanza, a member of the current City Manager Selection Committee as well as the prior one, said the focus should be on the quality of the candidates.
“I can say that we may not have been able to select the most qualified person at that time,” Lanza said of the selection process that ended with Barbara Matthews as city manager.
Others, however, were supportive of the proposal.
With experience studying city planning, former city council member Colleen Clay said she supported the city manager living in Takoma Park.
“I can tell you, it’s a norm for the field,” Clay said.
After residents’ comments, the council had its first reading of the revised charter amendment. Next week, the amendment will be discussed, and passage could come as early as a few weeks, Mayor Bruce Williams said.
In the revision, the council would be allowed to establish, by ordinance, terms for a residency requirement or preference for the city manager and other executive employees that report to the city manager. The revised amendment also included the possibility for the council to create a waiver for the requirement.
A second part of the amendment would also allow the council to advise the city manager at the beginning, middle and end stages of the hiring process for executive employees. The previous version of the amendment stated that the council would both advise and grant consent to the city manager’s choices.
Some residents said the “advise and consent” aspect of the amendment could mean the council would not trust the city manager to do his or her job, while others said the council should have a role in choosing the senior government employees.
About 100 people weighed in to the discussion, including people who attended the council meeting and shared their thoughts through email, Williams said.
During the council’s discussion, Williams said he was opposed to both the residency requirement and council confirmation of executive employees.
“Residency is just one of many criteria that are important in choosing a city manager,” Williams said before the amendment was revised, adding that there are many possible obstacles that might prevent a move to the city.
“We want to keep authority and responsibility together with the city manager,” he later said regarding the ratification of senior staff. “That way we can hold him or her responsible for their hires and they won’t have the ability to tell us that they aren’t responsible for a problem because we created the problem.”
Councilman Tim Male said city managers are commonly required to live in the city where they work, citing examples where former Takoma Park city managers lived in the places where they worked prior to, and following, their Takoma Park positions.
“The origin of this proposal for me on advise and consent is based on the notion that we shouldn’t have a single person carry out the hiring of the most important senior staff in our city,” Male said.