Monday, September 19, 2011

Jumping the Gun in Finding a City Council Staff Replacement

I heard in a sound bite last week that the city council will be conducting a national search to replace ousted City Clerk Debra Owen. Conducting a national search seems a little over the top and means the position is going to be vacate for quite a long period of time.

In the interim, it appears the city council is ready to appoint the brand new recently hired council budget analyst to temporarily fill Owen's shoes. He has a high learning curve and it appears the budget analyst side of the council's business will need to be put on hold. Curious action to take. I hope he took political savvy know how 101 at Colorado Tech. He is going to need it.

This "city council chief of staff" position has been somewhat controversial since it's inception in 2005. There was much discussion back then on what the then eight city council members wanted in their executive staff position. One thing was clear back then though - they wanted something more than what the current position titled "city clerk" provided in city charter.

When you see how the vote went to fire the current incumbent last week, you saw new council members versus senior council members pitted against each other on their view of what they want in their executive position.

The problem with this expanded role, as defined in 2005, is that the position reports to eight politically different and constantly changing elected officials who sometimes can't even agree among themselves. It is a difficult balancing act for any incumbent to keep all eight diverging views and positions on an even keel and keep all of them happy with you. Couple that with the fact that the position must also serve as the council's  liaison to the mayor and his administration which can be a minefield of controversy and disagreement.  The end result is what you saw happen last week.

When you lump a highly political function with a specific administrative official city record keeping and election function, you get the kind of paralysis and dissension you now see in the city council office and a huge void in the election officer leadership duties considering an upcoming important election regarding the event center.

Maybe before the council starts the process to look for someone new, they should sit down and have a discussion among themselves on what exactly they want in their key executive staff position. The city clerk position is defined as to it's administrative function related to official city records and duties relating to serving as an election officer. Acting as the council's "chief of staff" is another matter all together.

Maybe, just maybe, the two functions need to split out to become separate and distinct functions and positions. Back in 2005, the council was clear that they wanted the assistant clerk positions to be protected from politics. They requested the positions be classified as civil service positions in order to provide stability in the records keeping function of city government. The "city clerk" position was expanded to include more "political type" functions.

It's seems pretty clear that the eight members of the city council don't agree when it comes to their executive staff position and what they want. It was hard to come to agreement back in 2005 and the position has been controversial ever since. The City Clerk/Chief of Staff position is vacant. The time is now to once again visit this issue. The city council needs to step back and not jump the gun on the replacement process.


  1. A newly hired, recent grad of Colorado Tech is going to temporarily take over the City Clerk duties and oversee this controversial EC election in November. No experience in elections, no experience in Sioux Falls city council business. I am not comforted by this latest action of the City Council. But what do expect from this group who seems to have totally fallen off the cliff or jumped on the mayor's boat whichever way you want to look at it. Just means a NO vote for the EC election seems the only way to go at this particular time.

  2. Good idea and this time don't invite the mayor to your meeting.

  3. I'm amazed that the City Council thinks someone with a degree from Colorado Tech is more qualified than someone with a law degree. Good luck. This will become an even bigger clusterf*#&.

  4. I am at Carnegie for Council meetings every week.

    I was present when the vote to terminate the City Clerk happened.

    I also attended the Council's two recent work sessions. The new budget analyst spoke at both meetings. He may know numbers....

    .......but he is NOT politically street smart!!!

  5. Why a national search? If we can find a City Attorney and a Director of Public Works here, why not a City Clerk?

    The real problem is as a friend said, once the train gets off the track it is awfully hard to steer. And, it is going to get noisy and dusty.

    Slow down.

  6. I wonder if the new guy knows why Mrs. Owen was fired?

    If so, he should call her and let her know since none of the Council nor the Mayor had the common decency to give a reason to her.

    Also, will someone please email Jimmy Carter or someone like him to come in and monitor the Novemeber Election? At this rate we are starting to look a lot like a 3rd world dictatorship.

  7. Now KELO is reporting that this appointment today is only temporary and he will be replaced before the EC election. He is only needed for some administrative duties. Gee, don't they have a backup in place for vacations and illness? If so, why wouldn't that person be available for this short term task?

    Also, I chuckled at this: "Whoever we end up hiring in terms of hiring a long-term permanent replacement, this person has eight bosses. Basically that person works for the city council and that's a difficult position to be in," Erpenbach said.

    MMM, seems like an understatement on number of bosses.

  8. Erpenbungler has lost her luster.