(Note: This is the first in a series of stories about the Aug. 4 McCall election on the city’s form of government.)
An overly strong mayor and a city administrator seeking employment elsewhere led McCall voters to change its form of government to its current council-manager form of government in August 1993.
The form of government has remained unchanged since then, but is being challenged by a vote set for Aug. 4 to return to a mayor-council form of government.
During a closed session of the McCall City Council on Aug. 10, 1992, then-Mayor Larry Smith asked the council for support to fire long-time City Administrator Bud Schmidt.
Smith’s plan was to take over as city administrator and take Schmidt’s salary of about $35,000 along with his mayor salary that was $4,200, according to The Star-News.
Smith came up with the scheme because Schmidt told him the previous month that he had applied for another job.
While council members Gary Van Komen and John Larson supported the mayor, council member Cindi Le Brett was against the plan. Council Member Francis Wallace missed the closed session meeting and asked for more time at the open meeting on Aug. 13.
Kirk Eimers, who later would become a council member and mayor, spoke against the plan and in favor of Schmidt at the Aug. 13 meeting. Schmidt had offered to resign for $7,500 in severance pay.
The council-manager form of government, “lacked direct accountability,” Smith said, but he was not opposed to studying the council-manager form of government already in place in Lewiston and Twin Falls.
Eimers and McCall resident Tom Shropshire then led a recall movement to remove Smith, Van Komen and Larson.
By Aug. 27, 1992 Smith had backed off his plan to take over as administrator and announced he would name a “blue-ribbon committee,” which he did in October. The recall effort was suspended to see who the mayor picked for the committee.
In the meantime, the Idaho Attorney General’s office told Smith he could not appoint himself to another office.
Named to the study panel was Denny Carlson, manager of Washington Federal Savings; Tom Kerr, a surveyor; Dan Krahn, owner of Krahn’s Home Furnishings; Larry Bouck, manager of Shaver’s supermarket; Margaret Fogg, former city clerk; and Marilyn Arp, former president of the Silver Sage Girl Scout Council.
The committee met from December through April of the next year and recommended the council-manager form of government.
An election was held in August 1992 and 77 percent of voters voted to change the form of government. Four of the five council members decided not to run for reelection.
Wallace won reelection, but he was replaced in January when took a seat on the Valley County Board of Commissioners.
“When we did all that study back then, we came to the conclusion that the lines of authority were horribly blurred,” Arp said in a recent interview with The Star-News. “City staff didn’t know who to report to.”
Smith has since changed his mind about a lack of direct accountability in the council-manager form of government and will vote in August to retain the city’s current form of government.
“I’m not for that at all,” Smith said in a recent interview with The Star-News. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with the system we set up, the problem is we haven’t come up with the right people to man it.”
“The first council was very clear on how it worked,” said Arp, who was appointed to that council in January 1994 after Wallace moved to the county board.
Six men have held the post of McCall city manager since the form of government was adopted in 1993.
Here is a summary of those five men, which does not count those who held the position as interim manager while a new manager was found:
Schmidt was city administrator of McCall from 1985-1993 and was the first to hold the city manager position after the news system took effect in January 1994.
Schmidt was retained by an entirely new city council in January as the interim city manager while a search for a permanent manager was launched.
Schmidt applied to be the permanent manager, but the council placed him third on its list of preferred candidates.
Their first choice, Harold Schilling, turned down the job in May 1994.
Schmidt resigned in June after the council hired its second choice for the position, Gary Shimun, and went to work in city government in Oregon.
Shimun was hired as the city’s first city manager in July 1994 and held that job until September 1997.
Shimun left McCall to take the newly formed city manager’s job in Hannibal, Mo.
Olson was hired as city manager in January 1998 by the council.
In December of that year, Olson was charged with felony domestic battery.
Police said he hit his live-in girlfriend in the face and arm and kicked her in the back while in his pickup truck in the Maketplace in McCall parking lot on Deinhard Lane.
The council suspended Olson with pay immediately and fired him on Jan. 7, 1999. The council paid Olson about $29,000 and benefits as severance.
Bill Robertson was named the interim city manager in late February 1999. He was later hired as the permanent city manager in June of that year.
In November 1999, the day after a failed recall election of the then Mayor Kirk Eimers and council members Allan Muller and Ray Venable, Robertson informed the council he was resigning.
Robertson took a job with a software development firm near Charlotte, N.C. In his resignation, he said he was discouraged by the council’s decision to retain J-U-B Engineering of Boise as the J-Ditch winter storage pond designer.
Strope was hired in May 2000 and held the position through June 2004.
He resigned because decided he no longer had the support of the council after a jury held the city owed about $5 million in the J-Ditch lawsuit to Employers Insurance of Wausau and St. Clair Contractors.
Strope also cited a “theme of mistrust of city staff as a whole by the council,” in his resignation letter.
He left for the city administrator position in Long Beach, Wash., on July 2.
Kirkpatrick, who was in charge of community development at the time of Strope’s resignation, was hired immediately as city manager in July 2004.
Kirkpatrick had already held the interim post for five months in 1999 and 2000 and for six weeks earlier in 2004 when Strope was testifying in the J-Ditch lawsuit in Boise. Kirkpatrick has now been city manager of McCall for longer than any of his predecessors.
(This is the second in a series of stories leading up to the Aug. 4 McCall election on the city’s form of government.)
All three Idaho cities governed by the council-manager form of government have faced a challenge from citizens to return to a strong mayor form of government.
Lewiston, Twin Falls and McCall are the only three cities in the state to use the council-manager form of government, where a city council hires a professional manager to implement the policy the council sets.
Each of those cities have faced at least one challenge to return to a mayor-council form of government. McCall is the latest city to face the challenge, a special election to determine what form of government the city should use will be held Aug. 4.
Backers of the movement to change McCall’s 16-year old council-manager form of government say the system does not work for McCall no matter who is city manager.
The group, led by Realtor Robert Lyons, successfully led a petition drive in May to get the question on the ballot.
Lewiston has had six challenges to change its council-manager form of government, which has been in place since the 1950s.
Voters voted against the measure in 2001, 1998, 1983, 1977, 1971 and 1964. The move to change the form of government only received 39 percent of the vote in 2001 and 44 percent of the vote in 1998.
“I’m a believer in the people,” said government watchdog Karl Knoll, 75, of Lewiston. “A strong mayor would be more responsive to the people.”
Accountability is missing in the council-manager form of government, Knoll said. He has been an advocate of a strong mayor form of government for several years.
“The people voted against a new library building here,” Knoll said. “But the council goes ahead and funds one anyway.”
In Lewiston, the council is micro-managing the city manager, Knoll said.
“I might be for a city manager form of government if they would let him do his job,” Knoll said. “I think if the people would have a choice they also have a chance to correct it.”
Knoll has not been a party to any movement to recall council members, though he sees that as the best option to ensure accountability in a strong mayor form of government.
Holding council members accountable is important in either form of government, Lewiston Mayor Jeff Nesset said. Nesset has been on the Lewiston City Council since 1996 and has been its mayor since 1998.
“In any form of government, it depends on the people in place at the time,” Nesset said. “My preference is the council-manager form.”
Twin Falls is by far the most stable council-manager form of government in the state. The city on the Snake River has been governed by the form of government since the early 1950s, Twin Falls City Manager Tom Courtney said.
Courtney has been at the helm of Twin Falls since 1979. In his 30-year tenure as city manager, there has been one attempt to change the form of government 15 years ago that failed to get the necessary petition signatures to place the question on the ballot.
Courtney has worked his entire career within the council-manager form of government, but assistant city manager Travis Rothweiler has had experience working in both forms of government.
“If you could compare both in a vacuum, the council-manager would be a better form,” Rothweiler said. “It tends to remove itself from the politics.”
Courtney countered the claim by advocates for a mayor-council system that the council-manager form lacks accountability.
“That is absolutely false,” Courtney said. “If we fail here, people are not shy about calling city council members, we have a significant set of checks and balances.”
No matter what the form of government, elected officials should be held to the fire by the electorate, Twin Falls Mayor Lance Clow said.
“You have to make your elected officials accountable,” Clow said. “I think the challenge is how much does it cost you to have a strong mayor or a city manager.”
There comes a point in time when a city has to decide if it wants a political mayor or a business manager, he said.
“It is easier to get rid of a bad city manager than it is a bad mayor,” Clow said.
The council-manager system is the most business oriented form of government, Clow said.
“Your city council may not be taking it’s political role to the appropriate level,” Clow said.
The underlying message of Monday’s public forum on the upcoming election to change McCall’s form of government was relatively straightforward.
“In the end it’s the people that make that difference between a functional system and one that isn’t,” said Jerry Mason, a Coeur d’Alene attorney and expert on small-town government who was on hand to answer questions.
“Remember that maybe at the root of all this is how certain people are performing,” he said. “I would encourage you to think not only about performance of the past but also the challenges that lie ahead.”
About 50 people attended the forum, which was moderated by Valley County Magistrate Hank Boomer in the downstairs meeting room of Idaho First Bank in McCall
Three opponents of the Aug. 4 ballot measure to repeal the current council-manager form of government appeared as panel members.
If the initiative is approved, the city would revert to a mayor-council form of government in which the mayor has broad powers.
Panelists included Dan Krahn and Marilyn Arp, who served on the 1993 panel that recommended the council-manager form of government. Also speaking was Dean Martens, who was the first mayor to serve under the new system when it was adopted by city voters.
Forum organizers invited initiative proponents Rob Lyons and Rhonda Sandmeyer to appear as panel members. They declined to participate, saying in a statement that the forum amounted to “a political debate” that would be divisive in the community.
“In the mayor form of government, the mayor could go without an administrator, which would cut down one layer of bureaucracy,” said Martens in response to a question on which system was more bureaucratic.
Often times, answers boiled down to placing responsibility on those who operate the government, rather than on one particular form over another.
“No system can guarantee positive outcomes,” Arp said. “It all depends on who is occupying its positions.”
Other questions by the audience focused on the strong mayor’s appointment of an administrator to assist with the day-to-day operations.
Mason said it is up to the mayor and council members to decide whether an administrator is chosen.
He also said tension often arises due to confusion among staff as to who holds certain powers.
“It is a power sharing arrangement and it only works if both parties understand that,” he said.
McCall resident Curt Mack questioned the level of public representation under each form of government.
“Those proposing changes are making implications that the strong mayor system would provide the community with more representation,” Mack said.
Mason believes neither system is more representative than the other.
“If you do the math, you’re gonna elect the same number of people one way or the other,” he said.
Other topics covered include veto power, government accountability and government effectiveness.
Once again, Mason and the panel members agreed that the answer can often be reduced to the integrity of those in power.
McCall residents can vote in person at The Hunt Lodge between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Aug. 4.
For more information on the election, visit www.mccalldecision2009.org.Back To Index