The recent saga of city hall should teach that a city manager left in place for decades becomes city council’s master, not its servant. Moreover, any long-serving city manager accumulates long-remembered mistakes and steadily loses public confidence. How did this happen?
Little known is section 6.1 of the Aspen City Charter, which requires that the city manager be employed “without definite term.” Thus, the city manager’s employment is at the will of city council, but his employment need not be reviewed on a regular basis. Accordingly, only a crisis leads to change. (Current council practice is to hold an annual “performance review,” but somehow council after council overlooked accumulated missteps.). This has permitted council after council to duck the requirement of deciding whether to continue the city manager’s employment or seek another for the position.
If candidates for council or mayor want to help the city avoid another city manager debacle, they should promote a city charter amendment to force city council to decide periodically whether to retain the city manager. Both his champions and his critics would have to make their cases on a regular basis.
I recommend an amendment that would (1) require the city manager’s employment be for a two-year period with the possibility of unlimited successive two-year renewals upon a majority vote of city council; and (2) require the expiration date of each two-year employment term to fall midway between biannual municipal elections, to minimize the political component of council’s decision whether to renew.