Who's in Charge? Ladue Considering Change in Government Style
A review of the existing mayor-clerk system called it inefficient and confusing for employees.
As Ladue’s mayor prepares to leave office, he’s been nudging his colleagues on the city council to consider some sweeping changes in the way the city is managed.
For 77 years, the city of Ladue has been governed by a city council, working in partnership with a city clerk. Some of the day-to-day administration is handled by the clerk, some by the mayor. Mayor Anthony Bommarito says that has to change, and his view was bolstered this week by a report from a committee recommending changes.
Attorney John Sant, a long-time city resident, led a committee to review how the city is managed and recommend changes.
“I believe job titles are important, and I just have to ask the question: 'Who is in charge here?',” Sant said told council members this week, after delivering his committee’s report to council members.
Sant’s committee recommended adopting a structure like neighboring Frontenac and other cities such as Town and Country, Des Peres, Richmond Heights and Clayton, where a city administrator runs all the day-by-day business.
"The lines of authority are very clear there," said Sant.
Because Ladue is a statutory city, Sant said, it would not require a vote of residents to change the city’s management style. Ladue is one of the few cities in the state of Missouri to have governance by a mayor/city clerk arrangement.
Bommarito, who turns over the reins to Councilwoman Nancy Spewak in April, said he would like to modernize the structure before he leaves.
“Our job is to connect the dots for our personnel and have a clearer line of authority,” said Bommarito. "We need to run a very efficient city for our citizens," said the Mayor.
The Governance Committee recommends other changes.
- Reduce the number of standing committees from 27. The Mayor would like the list reduced to six. Frontenac has just three.
- Ladue’s building commissioner should no longer be a contracted position. That position should be filled by a full time employee.
- The city clerk position would be reduced to a records keeper one.
City Attorney John Maupin says there are far fewer than 27 active committees; more like 10 are active. He said most are inactive, and are already taken off the books.
All council members agreed, Ladue could tighten the chain of command, and clearly define who reports to whom. There should be no ambiguities within the employees’ flowchart.
Reaction from council members
John Fox: "We have to review this with caution and weigh the pluses and minuses. Our mayoral system is sort of a hybrid system—not too strong or too weak."
Charles Hiemenz: "Other cities have distinct lines of reporting to a city manager. Going through our council, things can be murky."
Art Bond: "We’ve relied heavily upon institutional knowledge in leading our committees. We don’t want to lose that."
Nancy Spewak: "We should have a clear description of a city administrator's duties before we seek input from our citizens."
Hal Burroughs: "With due respect to history, there’s been a gap in time and it might be time to change."
One suggestion made was to leave the decision to a vote of the citizens.
"We (council members) were voted in to make decisions for the city. We don’t need a plebiscite," said Burroughs.