The Ithaca Common Council convened Wednesday to discuss updates on restructuring of the city government, with council members weighing the introduction of the city manager role that would shift some of the governing workload from the mayor.
Members of Common Council said they envision this position as a way to reduce the mayor’s workload — the mayor would transition to working part time, becoming a figurehead with similar voting powers to Common Council members. In addition to taking on the mayor’s administrative responsibilities, the city manager would replace the chief of staff role, a vacancy that was filled by Faith Vavra in September 2021.
Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 first introduced the city manager position in his January 2021 State of the City Address. In April 2021, the Ithaca City Administration Council formally proposed creating a city manager role, revealing that this position would replace the Common Council’s chief of staff position. They created the working group for city government structure to develop the position.
Redistributing responsibilities is a particularly important issue to Common Council members who work part time and receive a $10,141 stipend per year, with some saying they feel overworked.
“Theoretically, we’re working under 20 hours [a week],” Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) said. “But the expectation that we put on council members [and mayors] to participate and be involved and active in all of these groups … can [we] actually have another 20-hour a week job or a full-time job and adequately do what we [are expected to do]?”
Although the city manager won’t take on Common Council members’ workloads, several council members expressed their support for the idea of dividing responsibilities between a city manager and the mayor, who earns $58,561 per year.
“I think it’s important to establish a norm that these are positions, both the mayor and council, that someone can do while balancing other responsibilities, whether it’s a job or whether it’s family obligations,” Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward) said. “I also think we should do that because we’re not prepared, I think, to offer the level of salaries that we should if these were actually full-time.”
In addition to salaries, this shift in governance could attract candidates looking for more part-time work.
“I fully expect the mayor’s job to be no more than half time if managed well, under the new system,” said Donna Fleming (D-3rd Ward). “And I think it will be a terrific job for somebody who is committed to the community, and as Seph said, has other interests. There are lots of highly-qualified and highly-educated people who want a half-time job.”
If approved, the city manager role will go on the ballot in November 2022 and will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023 when the current mayoral term ends. The city manager would be selected by members of Ithaca Common Council.