Mayor outlines proposal to add city administrator position

Ocean Shores Mayor Crystal Dingler has presided over budget proposals in the past that would have funded the position of city administrator to help with many of her assumed duties and obligations.

This time, however, she believes she has the support to finally start the hiring process for an administrator as part of the city’s first two-year budget plan.

With the City Council’s final public hearing on the inaugural biennial budget set for Nov. 13 at 6 p.m., Dingler sat down last week to highlight several key aspects of the overall blueprint that would leave the city with a projected ending general fund balance of $1.57 million, with budgeted uses of $16.2 million.

Among the proposed general fund appropriations, Dingler has asked for funding the position of a city administrator, who would be hired in early 2019. That would boost salaries and wages in the executive/administration budget line item from $96,000 in 2015-2018 to $314,375 for 2019-2020.

Dingler, completing her second term as mayor, noted the city has been talking about the city administrator for as long as she has held office, which is why the mayor’s salary was raised by the City Council after she had to take on most of the duties herself after the position was never filled due to the post-recession budget crises.

“It was sort of lost in the mist of time,” Dingler said. “… I really think if we had a city administrator, someone who really knew what they were doing, we would have done things better.”

While Dingler has not yet decided whether to run for a third term, the mayor sees an administrator as helping to lay the foundation for the growth of the city as well as the position she now holds. “I think it’s important that we have a person that is gong to follow through,” Dingler said. “Before me, there were two mayors who each had very different styles. Then I came in, and I have a third style.”

Defining the position

An administrator would report directly to the mayor, unlike a city manager, which some cities have and where the position is controlled by the city council, which elects a mayor from among council members.

“A city administrator and city manager have a lot in common,” Dingler said. Hoquiam, for example, has city administrator in Brian Shay, with the same elected mayoral form of government.

Dingler said she currently has drafted a job description. “If we can always count on having a mayor with some administrative experience, it might be one thing, but you can’t.”

Some of the items listed in the job description under “interactions with mayor and staff:”

• Delegate projects and activities, and empower staff members.

• Manage daily work flow, review activities, meet with staff frequently (open door policy).

• Conduct all management interviews, work with the mayor to hire, discipline and fire.

• Directly manage 15 staff (directors plus Convention Center general manager, planning and permitting, airport manager/grant writer, court staffing, HR specialist, facilities manager, city marketing manager.)

• Work closely with the finance director to monitor the city’s financial condition by regularly evaluating revenue/expenditure trends, authorizing specialized studies, recommending to the City Council changes in service levels or in user fees, utility rates and taxes as necessary to maintain a sound financial condition.

As someone who had the administrative experience in her career, Dingler still had to learn much of the job of running the city as she went along — with little municipal government experience to assist her other than from former Police Chief Mike Styner or former Finance Director Steve Ensley, who had to respond to a financial crisis and state audit requirements exacerbated by the recession of about a decade ago.

Now that the city is growing by literally hundreds of new homes built since then, with new commercial construction underway, Dingler believes it’s important to also develop standards, policies and planning to go along. One example would be requiring new developments to include sidewalks and other amenities.

An administrator also would handle the growing city staff, which was at a low of about 70 people after Dingler was forced to cut staff in her first term, to about 87 people now. The city has not been able to hire a city engineer, and currently has three Police positions open, and the city administrator would be expected to help fill those vacancies. “It helps you in every possible way,” Dingler said.

Administrator authority

If the City Council approves funding the administrator position as part of the budget, the basic job outline already exists in city code (Chapter2.10).

“The mayor shall appoint the city administrator, subject to confirmation by the City Council, who shall serve as the administrator chief of staff for the mayor and liaison officer for the city government and the mayor. All authority and responsibility of the city administrator is derived from the mayor. The mayor retains the ultimate authority and responsibility for the administrative operations of the city,” the municipal code states.

Other provisions:

• The administrator need not be a city resident.

• No one elected to the City Council may be appointed to the administrator position until one year after the expiration of the last term for which the member was elected.

• The salary shall be recommended by the mayor and approved in the annual budget.

• The mayor shall conduct a performance evaluation of the administrator at least once a year.

Although approval will come through the budget, there still remains some question about the hiring process once it goes forward. According to the mayor, the administrator would be the only staff position the Council would have any initial authority over.

“My understanding is the Council either gets to have a say in who that person is going to be or they have a say in the job description, but they don’t have a say in both,” Dingler said, adding that the Council does not get to interview all candidates for the job.

“So we have to bring our selection forward to the Council, and then let them interview that person,” she explained.

Should the position be approved in the final 2019-2020 budget, Dingler anticipates the hiring would happen “pretty quickly,” though she said it might not be until the second quarter of 2019.

In the past year under the 2017 budget, the city was able to hire a new human resources specialist, a facilities manager, and a marketing manager for the Convention Center and city.

“We have been able to recruit very good people. We have a really fine administrative staff,” Dingler said. “I don’t know if people out there realize how fortunate we are to have people of the caliber that we do. I have every confidence that we will be able to recruit and equally good city administrator.”