Mitchell city manager proposal suffers landslide lossMitchell voters resoundingly defeated a proposal to add a city manager to the city staff Tuesday.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
Mitchell voters resoundingly defeated a proposal to add a city manager to the city staff Tuesday.
The initiated measure was defeated 1,486 to 782, a 65.52 to 34.48 percent margin. It was brought to the ballot by a petition drive that collected 1,707 names but received less than half that many votes. Voter turnout Tuesday was 23.4 percent.
Councilman Mel Olson, who led the opposition to the proposal, said he felt he represented the views of most voters.
“I think there’s something to listening to the common people and not just the elites and the movers and shakers,” Olson said.
“It’s not me that needs congratulating, it’s the people of Mitchell. I just really think people like having an executive who is responsible to people, and I think the other side glossed that over.”
Olson said he was encouraged by people he saw after he began speaking against the city manager concept.
“I heard people say, flat out, ‘We don’t need it,’ ” he said.
Olson said voters were concerned about the accountability of a city manager, the large salary, the at-times rapid turnover in city managers and other issues.
“If you’re going to spend your $100,000, spend it on Sanborn Street or something else,” Olson said people told him.
He said the landslide against adding a city manager, which closely mirrors the result of a Mitchell vote on a city manager in 1948, may mean the end of such a proposed change in city government.
“Well, I hope so,” Olson said. “I think it would have buried the issue if we had had a higher turnout.”
Olson said if he was “a (Focus) 2020 person,” he would now push for a full-time mayor. He said while he doesn’t favor that, he would not campaign against it.
Focus 2020 is the volunteer, long-range planning group from which the city manager proposal arose.
Olson is a Mitchell High School history/social studies teacher and said he feels a desire to keep the flame of democracy alive. He was also a leading voice against the on-sale of hard liquor on Sundays, another ballot issue he helped defeat last year.
Mark Buche, chairman of Focus 2020, said the defeat was a major surprise.
“Obviously I’m disappointed,” Buche said. “I thought we’d done all the right things to get this accomplished.”
He felt getting current and former city officials to endorse the plan, holding forums and providing information to voters was the path to success.
“Obviously, we’re missing something,” Buche said. “I’m sitting here scratching my head. It’s obviously not something the community wants.”
Another proponent, state Sen. Mike Vehle, said the defeat was tough to take but he accepted the will of the voters.
“Yeah, I’m disappointed,” Vehle said when he stopped by The Daily Republic after the results were known.
He said the turnout was especially disheartening.
“Less than 25 percent of the voters came out,” Vehle said. “That’s truly the disappointing part.
“But I want to thank all the people that put this together,” he said. “I want to thank the voters that came out, that studied the issue and made the decision.”
Vehle said other initiatives proposed by Focus 2020 still deserve serious discussion and possible implementation. This election doesn’t mean the effort was wasted, he said.
“I would hope not,” Vehle said. “We’ve got a whole lot of civic-minded people that came together and want to push this community forward.”
Mayor Lou Sebert favored hiring a city manager, as did all living former mayors and seven of the eight members of the City Council.
“It’s tough to get the general public to vote to spend money,” Sebert said Tuesday night.
During the campaign, the mayor said he would “most likely” not run for a third term if a city manager was not added to the city. He said he was growing tired of the daily administrative duties and wants the freedom to mow grass and spend time with his family.
Sebert said Tuesday night he stood by that statement.
“That’s still the same,” he said.
The voter turnout of 23.4 percent was less than the 30 to 40 percent Finance Officer Marilyn Wilson had predicted after a late surge in early voting.
The voters who did go to the polls rejected the idea of a city manager in all four wards.
- Ward 1: 335 against, 142 for, a margin of 70.23 to 29.77 percent.
- Ward 2: 333 against, 148 for, a margin of 69.23 to 30.77 percent.
- Ward 3: 380 against, 213 for, a margin of 64.08 to 35.92 percent.
- Ward 4: 438 against, 279 for, a margin of 61.09 to 38.91 percent.
On Election Day, voters contacted by The Daily Republic offered varied opinions on the question of hiring a city manager.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said a man who identified himself only as Mark.
Vicky Jacobson voted for hiring a city manager, she said after emerging from Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School, the lone polling place.
“I just think it’s time for a change,” Jacobson said.
She went to the polls with her fiancé, Joe Fick, who voted the opposite way.
“I just feel the City Council is already there,” Fick said. “They might as well do the job. I don’t think it should be up to one person to manage the city.”
Ryan and Sarah Kroetch said they were both in favor of adding a city manager. They said it seemed like a good idea for Mitchell.
Some opponents said they felt Mitchell “isn’t a large enough city,” while others said they wondered about paying someone such a large salary of $100,000 for the post.
A woman who asked that her name not be used seemed to sum up the feelings of many of the voters who were interviewed Wednesday.
“I just think it’s working the way it is,” she said. “I think that by having a mayor, we have more citizen input.”