The four Lewiston city councilors present at Monday’s work session all expressed opposition to the switch to a strong-mayor form of government voters will consider in November.
“I’m not a proponent of this initiative,” Councilor John Pernsteiner said of the ballot question forced by the petition drive of a group called Lewiston SMART. “I’m not a fan of a strong-mayor form of government. But I don’t want to be in a risky place because we didn’t plan ahead.”
Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder and Councilor Cari Miller were absent, as was Councilor John Bradbury, who made the strong-mayor switch a key component of his 2019 election campaign. But Mayor Mike Collins and Councilors Bob Blakey and Kevin Kelly shared Pernsteiner’s reservations about the switch.
“I’m also not in favor of change,” Blakey said in support of Lewston’s long-standing city manager form of government. “We’re a big-budget operation, and I want trained professionals running my organization.”
City Attorney Jana Gomez gave the council its second briefing on the topic, which shed even more light on the massive amount of work city staff is undertaking in preparation for the possibility of a change in the form of government. Gomez laid out the ballot details last month, while this round focused on the question of a mayoral salary and whether to follow the model of many other Idaho cities by requiring a professional administrator to assist the mayor.
Blakey said that if the switch happens, the city should follow Post Falls by making the mayor a part-time position that earns about $2,000 per month without benefits, while offering a competitive salary to a professional city administrator or supervisor.
Gomez urged the council to set the salary by the end of July so those who want to run for mayor will know whether it will be a part- or full-time position, and how much it will pay. City staff collected data from all other Idaho strong-mayor cities for the council to consider, including the salaries for their mayors and a city administrator if there is one. Councilors didn’t debate the amount since only four members were present, but Gomez said she would put together a proposal as a starting point for a future meeting.
All four councilors also expressed strong support for requiring that a successful candidate for a new strong-mayor position would have to win more than 50 percent of the vote to be elected if the form of government does change. Pernsteiner said that would eliminate the possibility of someone who only secures 30 percent of the vote, for example, from becoming mayor. Blakey agreed the measure was needed to assure the new mayor would have strong public support.
One downside would be the statutory requirement for a city-funded mayoral runoff election within 30 days if no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote. Gomez has said that election would probably be an expensive undertaking, but no estimates have yet been made public.
The provisions like the mayoral salary, a city administrator position and a majority-vote requirement for mayor could all be included in an ordinance city staff is preparing. Pernsteiner did say the city may not want the ordinance to get too specific to allow the 2022 city council — whatever its composition — to make those decisions once it takes the reins in January. The ordinance would also spell out details like which date the changeover would take effect, if necessary.
Gomez also briefed the council on another wrinkle, Senate Bill 1111 that is currently working its way through the Idaho Legislature. The bill’s main provision would be to require that cities with populations greater than 100,000 elect their city councilors by district, so that wouldn’t affect Lewiston. But amendments that have been added would shift the dates of municipal elections from odd to even years.
If it becomes law, city officials elected this November and in the next municipal election would serve three-year terms instead of four years to compensate for the new election dates.
In other business:
City Manager Alan Nygaard briefed the council on a recent letter from the Nez Perce County Commission asking that any revisions to the city-county Joint Powers Agreement that governs the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport be limited to the facility’s federal certification to handle commercial air travel.
The city and county have been involved in making several revisions to the agreement over the last year. City councilors directed Nygaard to inform the county that they would rather see those other issues remain on the table for discussion, rather than just the passenger certification.
The current agreement does not require the airport board to maintain that certification, while the proposal would add that language.
Mills may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (208) 310-1901, ext. 2266.