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Brookings mayor advocates for city manager

Brookings has been growing in recent years, and one man deserves a great deal of the credit, according to Brookings Mayor Tim Reed. That person is Brookings City Manager Jeffrey Weldon, Reed told the Mitchell Kiwanis Club on Wednesday afternoon a...

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Brookings Mayor Tim Reed talks with members of the Mitchell Kiwanis Club on Wednesday. Proponents of adding a city manager to Mitchell's city government invited Reed to speak about his experience working with a city manager in Brookings. The Mitchell election on the issue is June 7. (Chris Huber/Republic)

Brookings has been growing in recent years, and one man deserves a great deal of the credit, according to Brookings Mayor Tim Reed.

That person is Brookings City Manager Jeffrey Weldon, Reed told the Mitchell Kiwanis Club on Wednesday afternoon at The Depot Pub and Grill.

Brookings has grown to 22,056 people, according to the 2010 Census, and is now the fourth-biggest city in the state, passing Watertown.

New jobs are being created in the city on a regular basis, a joint city-county building is under construction and local companies report brisk business, Reed said.

Weldon has been a driving force behind most of that progress, he said.

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"I remember thinking, maybe I can be a councilman someday," he said.

Sure enough, he was. The Brookings native and South Dakota State University graduate has remained in his hometown and now works for the SDSU Foundation.

He served six years on the City Council before he was elected mayor three years ago. Reed, 45, said he's unsure if he will run for a second term.

But he feels no matter who is mayor, Brookings has set itself up for steady growth.

The city manager can focus on supervising the staff and directing city resources while the mayor and council can plan and create a vision for the city, Reed said.

He meets with the city manager on a regular basis to ensure they share the same goals.

"I push the agenda," Reed said. "And that's what I do most of the time. And the council is responsible for policy."

Mitchell will vote on adding a city manager in the June 7 election. Supporters of the idea collected more than 1,700 signatures to place the question on the ballot and have brought speakers to Mitchell since last fall to raise awareness of the issue and to promote passing the change in city government.

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Reed said he supported the idea of hiring a city manager and switching from a commission-mayor form of government to a council-mayor government. Brookings had to create a home-rule charter to change its form of government.

Cities without a home-rule charter follow the state constitution in setting up city government and creating local laws.

Mitchell is not asking for a home-rule charter, although that was considered at one point last year by supporters of the city manager concept. If hiring a city manager is approved by voters, Mitchell would still have a mayor and eight council members elected in four wards.

Reed said it's important to get a properly educated city manager, preferably with a degree in public administration. A city manager who knows government and law can serve almost as a "legal counsel" to the elected officials, Reed said.

"They understand government," he said. "From the inside, it's a totally different look."

Of course, it comes at a cost.

Weldon is paid $120,550 and his benefit package costs the city another $30,398.10, according to Brookings city staffers. Included in that benefit package is a $6,000 vehicle allowance.

Under his contract, Brookings must give Weldon six months notice if he is to be fired, or it will pay him a six-month severance, or $60,275.

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Weldon is the third city manager Brookings has employed in eight years. Reed said the first city manager was "a change agent" who wanted to convert city government and then moved on to do the same job at another city.

He said the second manager sought a job in Colorado and landed one. Reed noted that the average tenure nationally for a city manager is five years.

"You're going to have that kind of turnover," he said. "You do have to get the person who's the right fit."

But Reed said he believes a city manager who focuses on the city budget can be a cost-effective choice for a city.

"I think you actually save money," he said.

Reed said Weldon strives to save Brookings money and "make city government more efficient."

There is also an improvement in service, he said.

A city manager can deal with the public in a more informed manner than an elected official, Reed said.

He said when people call him, he tries to help but usually refers them to a department head or the city manager.

It provides better service, Reed said, "and you don't have a politician in between."

Reed said he has a great deal of respect for Mitchell Mayor Lou Sebert, calling him a "great guy" who does a "super job."

State Sen. Mike Vehle, R-Mitchell, who introduced Reed, said Mitchell has been lucky to have a run of strong mayors who cared about the city and gave a great deal of their time and expertise to the city.

But Vehle said there's no guarantee that will always be the case.

Repeating a theme often sounded by supporters of the city manager concept, he said Mitchell is like a business with $100 million in assets, a $30 million budget and 175 employees that is being led by a part-time boss.

If that was a business concept, no one would invest in it, Vehle said.

Weldon and Reed were in Mitchell last fall for a forum on city managers that was held at Mitchell Technical Institute.

Weldon will return to Mitchell on Tuesday, when he will speak to the Lions Club. On Thursday, June 2, Lt. Gov. Matt Michels will speak on the topic to the Rotary Club.

That same night, a forum on the city manager question, which will also feature candidates for the Mitchell City Council, will be held at 7 p.m. at the MTI amphitheater, 1800 E. Spruce St.

The forum is sponsored by the Governmental Affairs Committee of the Mitchell Area Chamber of Commerce. The Daily Republic will webcast the event live at www.mitchellrepublic.com .

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