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OUR VIEW: Carlson's right - Palace fiasco points to need for administrator

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opinion Mitchell, 57301

Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

In today's politics, those who think carefully about issues and change their positions based on new information are too often labeled flip-floppers. While it's important for politicians to bring principles to the table, it's a fallacy to think principles can be relied upon as an exclusive guide for every decision a politician makes.

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City Councilman Phil Carlson's change of heart about the city of Mitchell's hiring of a city administrator is a great example. As a self-described conservative, it was natural for Carlson to initially oppose the idea.

"It seems to me that this would be an increase in government, an increase in bureaucracy," he said during a City Council meeting in December.

Others who supported the proposal argued it could lead to greater efficiencies in city government and better overall management of city employees. The supporters won, and the city began searching for someone to fill the newly created administrator job.

Fast forward to this month. A scandal has erupted at the city-owned Corn Palace, where a state audit requested by Mayor Ken Tracy has unveiled improper spending and accounting procedures.

In hindsight, no one should be surprised by mismanagement in a city department. The city of Mitchell has 177 employees and a $35.5 million budget, yet the city's chief executive is a part-time mayor who is paid $30,000 annually and is not required to have any prior experience running a city. It's unreasonable to expect that a citizen mayor could walk in off the street and manage all the complexities of such a large organization.

That's why we supported adding a city manager to city government when that earlier proposal was rejected by voters, and it's why we supported adding a city administrator when that proposal arose more recently. This city's mayor needs a competent professional to run the day-to-day affairs of the city so the mayor can focus on long-term policy goals.

After all, voters elect mayors to carry out a vision for the city, not to micromanage the handling of cash registers. A large-city mayor without a city administrator is like a governor or president without a chief of staff. It just doesn't make any sense.

Councilman Carlson knows that now.

"If we had a city administrator in place, we may have caught this sooner or kept it from happening," he said Tuesday about the Corn Palace scandal.

Whether a city administrator would have straightened out the Corn Palace mess will never be known. What's past is past. But it's clear that mismanagement of a city department is exactly the kind of thing any future city administrator should know about and work to address under the oversight of the mayor.

Perhaps the clarity of knowing exactly why this city needs professional management is at least one positive to emerge from the Corn Palace audit. We applaud Councilman Carlson for having the wisdom to change his mind and the courage to publicly admit he was wrong.

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