• December 18, 2014

Asking public input on city manager’s contract positive, yet problematic

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Posted: Sunday, June 10, 2012 12:00 pm

It seems the city of Killeen is all about public input these days.

Less than 24 hours after a fairly well-attended public forum on the 2012-13 municipal budget, the city sent out a notice inviting residents to share their comments regarding the terms of the city manager's contract.

The notice states that residents have until Thursday to weigh in on the proposed employment contract for Glenn Morrison, who received the City Council's unanimous endorsement for the city manager's post at a May 29 meeting. Morrison has been serving as the interim city manager since March 2011, when the council severed ties with the previous city manager.

An ad hoc committee composed of three council members, the city attorney and human resources director is in the early stages of drafting Morrison's contract. Now the committee is anticipating the public's suggestions on the matter.

On the surface, giving the city's residents input on the contract process is a positive step. After all, the previous city manager's contract - with its expensive buyout clause - was at the center of the recall initiative that resulted in five council members losing their jobs last November.

However, while opening the contract process up to public input is certainly laudable, it's not without its potential problems.

Soliciting residents' comments is likely to produce a wide range of suggestions, but how many of them will be workable and realistic? Additionally, how heavily should the committee weigh public input in drafting the contract?

For example, should the committee seriously consider suggestions such as a reduction in salary or the elimination of a car allowance? What about other significant job benefits, such as vacation time or sick days?

These areas are very important, personal considerations in any employment contract - and as such, they should be negotiated in good faith between the committee and interim city manager.

Another consideration is the buyout option. Many residents are no doubt still stinging over the previous council's decision to spend $750,000 to part ways with the last city manager. As such, it's likely that many who submit suggestions will advocate that Morrison's contract have no buyout clause.

That's understandable, but ultimately, it's not fair.

The city manager's position is a high-profile, high-responsibility job that merits some degree of job security. And while the last city manager's buyout clause was a bit excessive, Morrison deserves a reasonable, affordable buyout option, based on his credible performance as interim city manager and more than 20 years of service to the city.

Newly elected Councilman Jared Foster, speaking on behalf of the committee, said he hopes the public's suggestions will be "creative," rather than negative.

Hopefully, Killeen residents will respond in the proper spirit and provide positive input that will advance the process to the benefit of both Morrison and the city.

Residents may do so by emailing suggestions to citymanagercontract@killeentexas.gov or by contacting a city council member.

Bottom line, involving the public in the contract process could be both positive and problematic, but erring on the side of transparency is never a bad thing.

Still, the question remains: Why is the public being brought in at this late stage in the process? After all, the council wasted no time in voting its intent to hire Morrison for the job, moving on the issue less than two weeks after taking office.

If public input is so important, why didn't the city solicit opinions on promoting Morrison before moving ahead with the vote?

Indeed, if the council thinks enough of Killeen's residents to seek their input on the terms and conditions of an important city contract, shouldn't it also give them a say on who is offered that contract in the first place?

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