City councilors and the mayor verbally argued over the mayor’s power to appoint certain city officials during a debate that took up nearly an hour and a half of the nearly six-hour Roswell City Council meeting on Thursday night.
At issue was the recommendation of Mayor Tim Jennings of Hessel Edward Yntema IV as city attorney. Current City Attorney Parker Patterson will leave in late August to take up a position with the Alaska Attorney General’s Office, City Manager Joe Neeb said.
Several councilors argued that by appointing a city attorney, Jennings was circumventing hiring procedures established by the city, but Jennings countered that appointing a city attorney and several other officials was a matter for the government. authority of the mayor given by state law.
Jennings also said he was denied the right to appoint a city clerk and that the city council relinquished some of its responsibilities to city manager Joe Neeb.
Jennings eventually broke a 5-5 tied vote, approving Yntema’s nomination effective September 1. Councilors Jeanine Corn-Best, Barry Foster, Angela Moore, Savino Sanchez and Jason Perry voted against the recommendation. Councilors Cristina Arnold, Juliana Halvorson, Juan Oropesa, Edward Heldenbrand and Robert Corn voted in favour.
Councilors who voted against his nomination said they were not voting against Yntema and believed he was qualified, but questioned going against the city’s usual process of releasing the position, create a job description, select candidates and offer a salary package.
Foster and Perry also noted an official report named to the council and the mayor, rather than the city manager, which they say is against city code and state law.
Foster read the city code dealing with the appointment of the city manager: “The city manager is appointed by the mayor, with the consent of the governing body, and is the chief administrative officer of the city. He will be responsible to the governing body for the proper administration of all the affairs of the city,” Foster said, emphasizing the last sentence.
Perry cited the state’s Municipal Administration Act which states that a governing body may establish municipal departments, each “under the charge of a person employed by the director.”
“If we’re going to go through the appointment process, we will now have a city attorney who cannot be the department head of the City of Roswell Legal Department,” he said.
Just over an hour into the discussion, Jennings vehemently defended his power of appointment, saying state law allows a mayor to appoint four positions — a clerk, a treasurer, a police chief and a city attorney.
Jennings tried to appoint a clerk at his first meeting on April 1, but his recommendation – former town clerk Sharon Coll – failed to win the governing body’s majority of six votes after debate and an executive session. Two councilors left during the executive session, resulting in a 4-4 tie.
Coll had been a clerk for 10 years when she abruptly resigned in February two weeks before the March 1 municipal elections. Council approved then-Mayor Dennis Kintigh’s recommendation of Amalia Martinez, a paralegal with the city’s legal department, as acting city clerk. At the same time, the position of City Clerk was reorganized from a department manager to be handled by the legal department at a lower rate of pay.
In May, after a posted search for the position, the city hired Gabrielle Han as city clerk; however, Martinez also continues as acting city clerk.
“I never understood why Dennis, Mayor Kintigh, got a $90,000 clerk and I got my clerk when I was called on April 1 and (I was asked) ‘Do you want interview your new clerk?’ That’s not what I had in mind for my clerk. It wasn’t his job,” Jennings said, pointing to Neeb, “and I’m going to choose people who will protect people’s money, their rights, and your rights to set policy in this community. This is our job,” he said. said.
Jennings said he believed the city council had ceded some of its responsibilities to the city manager through ordinances.
“We cannot shirk and hand over our responsibilities for setting policy and running our community to the City Manager. We can’t do that,” Jennings said. “The responsibility of the city manager is to take over the policies here that we direct him to apply, and if he does not apply them, we fire him. That’s how it is,” he said.
“The will of the people is that I won. I was elected mayor and I think I should have the right to choose my clerk, my chief of police, my lawyer and my treasurer, so at least give me the second,” Jennings said. “To me, it’s courtesy. Whether you like me or not is fine, but I’m going to tell you, out of respect for the office, you should.
Jennings has yet to recommend anyone for nomination as police chief or city manager. Chief Financial Officer Janie Davies was named Treasurer in May.
The board approved Jennings’ 10-0 recommendations of Matthew Bristol, Larry Connolly and Mona Kirk to the Offshore Zoning Commission and Heldenbrand 9-0 to the Offshore Zoning Authority. Heldenbrand abstained from voting.
In other matters, the City Council has taken the following actions:
• Voted 10-0 to uphold Planning and Zoning Commission approval of a 20-acre area change near Alameda Avenue and South Eisenhower Road from residential park to recreational vehicle park for development of an RV resort.
• Voted 5 to 4 to refer the proposed changes to Recreation Department fees to the General Services Committee. Councilors Heldenbrand and Moore had concerns about spectator fees, and Moore also inquired about the increased discount for veterans.
• Approved their top picks for the infrastructure improvement plan as refurbishment of the 7.5 million gallon water reservoirs on Country Club Drive; storm drainage improvements on Brasher Road; replacement of large diameter water pipes throughout the city; purchase of 13 new police vehicles; reorganization of the health service shop; deferred maintenance at Roswell Adult Center; and the design of a new terminal at the Roswell Air Center. The vote was 9-0; Councilman Sanchez had left the meeting before the vote.