The Ithaca Common Council voted unanimously Wednesday night to begin the process of creating a city manager position, who would become the administrative head of the Ithaca city government.
The position’s creation also requires the approval of the public via referendum, which will go to a vote in November 2022. The city manager’s responsibilities would include overseeing city finances and operations, supervising department leads, heading negotiations with labor unions and chairing the budget committee.
“An appointed City Manager is politically neutral and will ensure that the policies created by Common Council and the Mayor are implemented,” reads the city’s description of the project. “With a City Manager, the consistency, quality and continuity of the city’s operations will be independent of the election cycle.”
Common Council members have discussed creating the position to reduce the mayor’s workload. The mayor would remain the city’s political leader and spearhead writing policy.
For this role to officially be instated, voters must approve it in the November 2022 referendum. The Common Council would then plan to appoint the first city manager by Jan. 1, 2024, which coincides with the beginning of the mayoral term.
During the meeting, council members also resolved to provide legal counsel to tenants facing eviction and pass the budget for the 2022 fiscal year.
Before the council voted on the budget, Alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) moved to include $150,000 in funding for the Unbroken Promise Initiative, a grassroots organization that aims to provide economic, social and emotional support to residents of Ithaca’s West End area.
Several Ithacans voiced support for this amendment during public participation. The motion failed for lack of a second, though Alderpeople Ducson Nguyen (D-2nd Ward) and Donna Fleming (D-3rd Ward) advocated support for exploring future funding.
The council also passed a resolution expressing its dedication to Right to Counsel legislation, which would provide legal representation to those facing eviction.
“The City of Ithaca Common Council [will commit] city resources and work with local partners named in this resolution to ensure tenant protections through a Right to Counsel Program that will provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction court,” the resolution reads.
This comes as the Common Council is embroiled in a debate with activist groups about tenant protections and the long-term availability of affordable housing. At October’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting, the Ithaca Tenants Union — a local organization that aims to secure legal protections of tenant rights — continued its advocacy for fair cause eviction legislation, which would restrict the ways and reasons for which a landowner can evict a tenant.
The council also considered legislation to start the process of electrifying and decarbonizing its buildings. It approved the legislation unanimously. Ithaca is among the first cities in the country to undertake this project.
“The idea is to address the main concern of greenhouse gas emissions, which is buildings from our city, from energy use in most cases,” said Luis Aguirre-Torres, Ithaca’s Director of Sustainability. “If we were to tackle this and be successful at it, we would reduce at least 40 percent of emissions that we have in the city.”