Two measures aimed at expanding the mayor and council’s authority over Nogales city government were abruptly tabled during the council’s regular meeting Wednesday because two councilmen were absent.
Even so, one of the supporters of the plan said he hopes to bring it back next month.
Following the invocation at Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor John Doyle deviated from the agenda, skipping the call to the public and going straight to the items Councilmen Robert Rojas and Cesar Parada had proposed to discuss and possibly act on two amendments to the City Charter.
The first amendment would have the city abandon its council-manager form of government – whereby a manager runs administrative operations – in favor of a mayor-council form of government in which the elected body serves as the administrative authority. Under a mayor-council form of government, the council and mayor could still hire a manager, though he or she would likely have limited authority.
A second measure added by the two councilmen sought to amend the City Charter so that all department director positions are filled by appointment.
Any change to the City Charter would require approval by the voters.
However, because Councilman Joe Acosta and Vice-Mayor Greg Lucero weren’t present, Parada moved to table both discussion items, as well as a third item he had also proposed that would require employees with terminal illnesses to pay their own life insurance.
Six people who had requested to address the council during the call to the public portion of the meeting were not given a chance to speak because the items were tabled.
“It seems like all of them deal with the items that were dropped off the agenda so we won’t have a call to the public,” Doyle said, as many in the audience voiced their confusion.
The suggestion that the City Charter be changed to give the mayor and council more power comes as Doyle and his allies on the council have sought to play an increasingly direct role in hiring processes. They also successfully forced out City Manager Shane Dille earlier this year, replacing him with Carlos Rivera, who has a short-term contract. The people behind a recent and ultimately unsuccessful effort to recall Doyle also accused him of interfering with the city manager form of government, and rumors that Doyle would seek to return the city to a strong-mayor government have circulated for months.
In that context, the addition of the charter-changing items to Wednesday’s agenda was not especially surprising. But it still ruffled some feathers.
“Doing things like that, putting controversial items on the agenda, takes away our time and it puts people on edge,” said Councilman Jose “Joe” Diaz, who supported Dille and opposed giving the mayor and council a bigger role in hiring.
Speaking after the meeting, Parada said one reason for proposing to change the city’s form of government is because he believes the council has little power.
“One of the main concerns that we have is that we have no power in office,” he said, adding later: “Our hands are tied, we can’t do nothing.”
Parada said he and others on the council have asked to be included in the hiring process, but haven’t been.
“The worse thing is when you get somebody that’s not in our culture, not our style. Immediately he tries to bring in his people,” Parada said. “We made a policy if (the city manager) would please give us the four top people that had applied for a job so that we could at least look at it, and not even that.”
He said the council also has little power to fire employees.
“In the old days, if a guy wasn’t doing his job, he had no protection. You said ‘OK you’re not producing so we’re (going to) have to let you go,’” he said. “Now it takes an act of Congress to do something like that.”
Parada, who is in the last year of his second-consecutive term and cannot run again, said he’d like to see both items on next month’s agenda.
Rojas, who also supported the agenda items to change the City Charter, told the NI in 2010 that he was in favor of a city manager form of government because it meant he did not have to attend to the daily operations of the city.
Doyle did not return a message seeking comment on Thursday.
Diaz told the NI after Wednesday’s meeting that it was “foolish” to put the items on the agenda.
“I’m not that naïve to do something that foolish,” he said.
Diaz, owner of Diaz Towing, said that because most council members run their own businesses or have a day job, it is important to have a city manager to run the city. Presently, the council functions more like a community service organization, he added.
Speaking of the manager position, Diaz said the manager has to be “educated, they have to know about the law, they have to know about consultants, they have to know everything because the amounts are so huge and you’re dealing with public monies,” something he said most of the council does not have experience with.
“It’s the ideal scenario to have a city manager form of government,” he said, adding: “There’s a saying, absolute power corrupts absolutely. A strong-mayor form of government leads to corruption and it leads to nepotism. Every time a new mayor comes on he fires everybody, all the directors. It doesn’t make sense.”
Lucero, who did not attend Wednesday’s meeting, said he does not support amending the City Charter and changing Nogales’ form of government.
“From the people I’ve spoken to, no one has indicated they think it’s a good idea,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.
As for Parada’s concerns about the city manager’s hiring power, Lucero said better communication between the council and manager could address that issue.
“If we’re not happy with the way (the manager) is conducting himself, then that’s something we need to address with him,” he said.
The City of Nogales switched from a strong-mayor government to the current council-manager model in 2000 after voters approved amending the City Charter. At the time, Nogales was reportedly the last municipal government in the state to use the strong-mayor model.
According to the National League of Cities’ website, council-manager is currently the most common form of municipal government in the United States, and is especially popular in cities with populations greater than 10,000. Under this model, the NLC says, the city council oversees general administration, makes policy and sets budgets, but hires a professional city manager to carry out day-to-day administrative operations.
Under a mayor-council government, the NLC says, “the mayor is often full-time and paid, with significant administrative and budgetary authority.” In cases in which the mayor is given “strong” powers, he or she acts as chief executive officer and has veto power over the council’s decisions. A “weak” mayor does not have veto power and the council has both legislative and executive authority.