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DL may beef up power of city administrator

Last month the Detroit Lakes city charter committee met to discuss updating the document that governs the structure of city government.

It met again last week and members are still looking at the same main question -- should the city switch to a city manager form of government, or stick with the city administrator sys-tem?

"Manager is more consistent with state statute," City Attor-ney Bill Briggs said.

Chair Dixie Johnson said the committee needed to decide soon into the meeting "whether we want to use city manager or city administrator." While the language was changed, the du-ties seemed to be relatively similar to the city administra-tor's current job description.

But the few changes brought up so much discussion, the committee is hoping to make a decision on its wishes by the coming meeting on Wednesday.

At the start of last Wednes-day's meeting, the committee basically agreed to go with city manager as a more updated term.

Also to update the city char-ter, the term "alderman" is be-ing changed to "council mem-ber," and the "his" and "he" ref-erences will be changed to "his/hers" and "he/she." "Vice" mayor will also be changed to "deputy" mayor.

Major discussion came at 2.11 in the charter about whether it should be changed so the council would no longer ap-point department heads, but the city manager would instead.

The manager would then hire and fire department heads, and the manager would answer to the city council. If the council wasn't satisfied with the city manager's performance, they could fire him or her.

"Aren't you putting all your eggs in one basket?" questioned Police Chief Kel Keena.

The current charter, which was last updated in 1982, says the police chief answers to the mayor.

"I see very little security in the proposal," Keena continued.

He said if a police chief and city manager don't get along, or if the police pull over the man-ager's kid or manager himself, the manager could get upset and fire the police chief.

City Administrator Rich Grabow said he didn't see that happening, because the manager would have to answer to the council and would know he or she would be fired for firing a police chief for personal rea-sons.

"To me that argument isn't very good," he said.

He said department heads having nine bosses (the city council) just isn't reasonable. In a business, he said, the CEO an-swers to the board of directors, like the city manager would to the council, and everyone else answers to the CEO.

Once the charter committee decides whether it wants to go with city administrator or city manager, and defines his or her duties, it should be able to look through other changes in word-ing more quickly.

The group plans to decide at Wednesday's meeting what di-rection it wants to take and then continue on with other changes to the charter.

All decisions must be ap-proved by a vote of the city council.