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Seven of eight Mitchell council members support city manager proposal

Only one of the eight members of the Mitchell City Council opposes adding a city manager to city government. Councilman Mel Olson is the sole member of the council opposed to the idea. Councilmen Doug Backlund and Travis Carpenter added their sup...

Only one of the eight members of the Mitchell City Council opposes adding a city manager to city government.

Councilman Mel Olson is the sole member of the council opposed to the idea.

Councilmen Doug Backlund and Travis Carpenter added their support this week.

Five other council members -- Council President Jeff Smith, Vice President Marty Barington and council members Dan Allen, Geri Beck and Scott Houwman -- made their positions clear earlier.

Mayor Lou Sebert made his support public Tuesday.

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City voters will decide the question in the June 7 election, when there will also be two City Council seats on the ballot.

Backlund, who is not running for a second term, said the city "is a big business" with a $30 million budget and needs a CEO.

He also feels Mitchell could use a change.

"I think we need to shuffle it up," Backlund said. "Change it. I think there is waste in every one of the city budgets."

He said a city manager would be able to look into the budget and ensure money is being spent wisely.

While some have said they don't favor adding another layer of bureaucracy or hiring someone who will cost up to $100,000 or more, Backlund pointed out that the city already has three department heads who make more than $100,000 when their benefits are added to their salaries.

Councilman Travis Carpenter said Wednesday he's in favor of creating the city manager position -- but he only wants to fill the post with someone who is a good fit.

"I think it's a good idea provided we get the right person in the job," Carpenter said. "I think the person is the key."

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If the wrong person is hired, it could lead to more bureaucracy and not more leadership, he said. So Carpenter said in some ways, he's "undecided," but he thinks it's an addition that could work well for the city, providing a good hire is made.

He's glad the election is being held and that the people of Mitchell will make the call.

"I'm in favor of the people getting to vote on it," Carpenter said. "I think it's a good thing for them to decide."

At a special meeting on May 5, Smith said he feels Mitchell needs a city manager and said the supporters of the idea will mount an extensive campaign, speaking to the local media and holding forums on the proposal.

"People need to educate themselves and decide if it's something that Mitchell should have or want," he said.

Barington said at the special meeting he is also in favor of hiring a city manager.

"The city's a big business and each big business out there has a CEO," he said.

Beck said she has made her support for the idea well known throughout Mitchell. Allen said as a former business owner, he is well aware of the need for professional leadership. He said his business had a $10 million budget -- one-third the size of the city of Mitchell's -- and it needed an experienced, trained manager to guide it.

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Councilman Scott Houwman circulated petitions to place the issue on the ballot and supports it. He said city government would benefit from a strong hand on the reins.

Houwman said he wonders if city staffers fear political pressures may have negative ramifications for them. A city manager could serve as a buffer between the city employees and elected officials.

"Just because of the political nature of the city ... they have different bosses every three years," he said. "Sometimes I'm not sure it they're telling me the truth or what they think I want to hear."

At the May 5 meeting, Olson said supporters of the city manager proposal who are asking people to get educated don't realize that some opponents, such as himself, have educated themselves.

"I think it's a colossal error and an expensive one," he said.

In a recent guest column in The Daily Republic, Olson reiterated his point. He wrote that a city manager would be an expensive and unneeded extra layer of bureaucracy.

"I have faith in democracy as well as in the people of Mitchell being willing to serve and participate in our city. I want elected officials, like the mayor, directly responsible to the people," he wrote.

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Discussion will take place during the 6 p.m. meeting on Monday at City Hall