Uncertainty takes up residence
Is Marion now without a city administrator and a city treasurer? That’s the tough question the city faces now that council members have failed by one vote to reinstate a home-rule option waiving state requirements that top appointed officials live within the cities they serve.
Opponents of the current city administrator undoubtedly view this as an opportunity to get what they thought they were getting in the last election: his ouster from office.
However, that doesn’t appear to be the goal of those questioning the city’s blanket waiver of residency requirements for top officials.
State law already allows for cities to import city attorneys (though Marion does not) and municipal judges (which Marion does) because of the scarcity of people qualified to hold such offices.
It does, however, require that the police and fire chiefs and city administrators, clerks, and treasurers live — just as council members must — within the cities they serve.
Part of this is to ensure prompt response to emergencies. Part also is to ensure that officials whose actions impact daily lives and long-term viability of a community feel the impact of their policies as keenly as do people who pay their salaries.
Set aside for a moment whether accidental omission of a residency waiver several years ago should force leadership change some people desire. There’s merit to both reasons for having a residency requirement.
There also is merit to a counter-argument that it’s hard to find skilled workers, and limiting the city to searching among its own residents would hamstring recruitment.
Still, whatever happened to cities recruiting top officials like administrators from other communities, as Hillsboro typically has done and Marion used to. One way to test a candidate’s devotion was to seeing whether he or she was willing to move here.
Complicating this is the county lake, which for most intents and purposes — except legally — is part of Marion. The city’s residency dilemma is likely to continue for decades unless the lake’s status as an integral part of the community is clarified.
The current dilemma shouldn’t be merely an opportunity to get rid of one individual. The full range of issues need to be discussed.
Perhaps the city should insist on residency unless it approves a special waiver on a case-by-case basis for the individual involved. Standards could include whether lack of residency impacted the candidate’s devotion to the city and ability to respond rapidly.
Whatever’s done, it must be done quickly. State law requires that whenver a city official is found not to be qualified, the city clerk must promptly report to the council that the official’s position is vacant.
Failing to make such notification could be grounds for dismissal, and Marion most definitely does not need to lose its clerk along with its administrator and its treasurer.
— ERIC MEYER
Last modified July 1, 2021