Cortland to look into potential city manager position

City of Cortland mayor Scott Steve (middle) with Councilpersons Tom Michales (left) and Mary Clare Pennello (right) at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. (Photo Source: Timothy A. Bennett/Owner & Publisher of The Cortland Voice).

Cortland city leaders are considering bringing in a city manager, a sweeping change to the city’s charter of government and oversight of day-to-day financial operations.

A city manager, based on a description outlined by the city, would conduct collective bargaining negotiations with representatives of city employees, manage insurance, risk mitigation, and all financial affairs, as well as oversee budgeting duties and deal with media requests. The city manager would also advise Common Council members on policy decisions, but does not have a vote on any local legislation.

The potentially new position was discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.

“The department heads would report to the city manager,” City mayor Scott Steve said. “We give the directions to the city manager and they follow through with that. They would be experienced in negotiations, experienced in all the other handlings of business, (and) human resources.”

A city manager would also oversee hiring, suspending, enforcing necessary disciplinary actions, firing of the staff members, and optimizing the performance and day-to-day operations of staff members.

The qualifications for the position, outlined in the city’s rough sketch, include prior municipal managerial experience, as well as experience as a public administrator, The city manager’s educational qualifications may include a background in criminology, public safety, business administration, finance, or accounting. 

The new position, Steve said, would “guarantee some continuity down the line.” 

“(This is) kind of similar to what the county did 18-plus years ago installing a county administrator,” Steve added. “There has been some success to that. The tax rates have been somewhat managed.”

Being that the city manager oversees financial day-to-day responsibilities, officials said this position would essentially take the place of the old director of administration and finance role

Steve said the framework of that position had “loopholes and problems.” The city has operated without a director of administration and finance since the start of Steve’s term.

“Priority of the mayor and council still remains the same,” Steve said of the proposed city manager position. “This is an assurance I feel comfortable with, having a four-year term where you have some continuity to do that.”

Mary Clare Pennello (D-3rd Ward) reiterated that while the new position would require a change to the city’s charter, the new city manager is still beholden to the city’s legislators and executive.

“They do not work independently. They do whatever we want them to do,” she said. “It is just a regular position. As we are looking to move the city in a different direction, this would be a chance to do that.”

At an upcoming council meeting, the city manager from Corning will address questions from the council regarding the proposed position.