Providence residents discuss city manager ordinance at public hearing

PROVIDENCE – Residents got their chance to let the City Council know what they thought of a new form of government that could be implemented in the coming months. If a proposed ordinance is passed, the city would hire a manager that would take care of its administrative duties instead of keeping that responsibility with the mayor.

The council listened to citizens and discussed the pros and cons of a manager for almost three hours Tuesday night at Providence Elementary. Strong opinions were voiced both for and against the change that would cost taxpayers an estimated $120,000 in salary, but that some see as a necessary step forward for a community that has experienced rapid growth.

The council was set to vote on the issue in the May 29th council meeting, but decided it would be best to get public opinion in order to better weigh the options. As of Tuesday night’s meeting, some council members were still undecided, and no date has been set for a vote.

Even if the idea is eventually rejected by the council, change could still take place. Providence resident Chad Checketts circulated a petition to enact the change. With 500 verified signatures the ordinance would go to a public vote in November, and it seems Checketts will have the signatures in time. With just one more name needed to reach the required number, Checketts requested Mayor Don Calderwood sign the petition in front of the audience as the final signature. Calderwood declined.

Checketts said the mayor has both administrative and legislative power in the current form of government. He said switching to a city manager form of government would split those powers, giving administrative powers – such as hiring city employees – to the manager.

As an example of the mayor’s current power, Checketts referenced a deciding vote by last May in regards to the purchase of a new city building. Former council member John Russell was out of state and unable to vote, so after the remaining members split their votes at 2-2, Calderwood cast his vote in favor of the purchase.

“When we have one person that is in charge and calls the shots, we usually refer to that as a dictatorship,” Checketts said. “It gets to be where one person’s personal agenda could lead an entire city which I believe is much less desirable than a city where a quorum of like-minded people make the decisions, and that’s how it operates with a city manager.”

Calderwood disagreed with Checketts. He said Providence’s government is not a strong-mayor type and that all his hiring decisions have to first be approved by the council. He also offered a rebuttal explaining the purchase of the building. He said his vote was to approve the contract between the owner and the city and that the actual vote to purchase the building was made in a later executive session.

“There were three council votes to buy the building,” he said.

Providence resident Ron Smith was one of the many residents who voiced an opinion Tuesday night. He said he hasn’t heard a compelling case for hiring a city manager.

“I’ve heard about grievances,” he said. “But I’ve heard nothing that says we ought to really go back to this and make a big, and for a little town like Providence, a costly change.”

Providence resident Bryan Cox said the city has grown and evolved. He believes having a qualified city manager would benefit the city with legal issues as well as others.

“We’ve got people bringing attorneys to council meetings to get their way,” he said. “It just raises the bar so we’ve got somebody there.”

Council member Kirk Allen said for him it all comes down to an educated vote.

“We have to make sure that the voice is heard,” he said. “Whether it goes to election or we have more meetings like this, it has to be heard.”

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