Does the current structure of Village Government cede too much power and control to the Mayor?
Mariemont has always had a strong mayor or mayor-centric form of government which is the norm for small communities. In Mariemont the Mayor is elected for four years without term limits.
Six Village Council members with four year terms are the only counterbalance to the authority of the Mayor. In January 2014, the two elected official positions of Village Clerk and Village Treasurer were eliminated and replaced with a Mayor appointed ‘Fiscal Officer.’
Typically, two or four Council candidates are nominated at an annual Village Town Meeting in March or April every other year and generally run unopposed. Many prominent residents believe the Village Town Meeting construct is an outmoded and antiquated system that as a ‘default result’ produces weak candidates due to a lack of resident participation. Moreover, councilmen receive nominal compensation of about $1000 per year for their volunteer time and efforts that includes many meetings that deal with mundane matters. It is easy to see why so few Villagers wish to become involved in local government and at the present time, most new recruits for Council are ‘persuaded’ as ‘friends of the Mayor’ to run for Council. It is not surprising that the turnover rate for Village Council members is quite high due to term expiration, resignations and relocation.
Unlike corporate America and larger nonprofit boards, the members of the Village Council are not selected based upon their competitive range of skills, knowledge and abilities and, as a consequence, there is limited diversity and narrow skill sets in council membership. Additionally, there is no formal Village Administrator to handle operations and provide input and feedback to the Mayor and Council.
To understand the dominant power and control equation enjoyed by the Mayor consider the following:
- All Departments report directly to the Mayor
- The Mayor crafts the agenda for Council Meetings
- The Mayor controls council committee appointments
- The Mayor restricts committee activities to those he personally assigns
- The Mayor unilaterally, without review or approval by Council, produces a monthly Mayor’s Bulletin for distribution to each household in the community
- The Mayor is a voting member on the Architectural Review Board
- The Mayor is the Chair of the Planning Commission and a voting member
- The Mayor maintains an official Village website that gives little transparency to Village Government
- The Mayor presides over very perfunctory bi-monthly Council Meetings that last an average of 18 minutes, in which real issues are seldom discussed
- The Mayor has a three minute time limit for any Village resident coming before Council.
My suggestions to improve the make-up of Mariemont Village Government include:
- Form a Membership or Governance Committee of Council to recruit qualified candidates for Council. The committee could be chaired by the Vice Mayor and comprised of an additional Council member, a Village resident appointed by MPF and a representative from the School Board for a total of 4 members.
- Modestly increase the compensation for the Mayor and Council members
- Hire an empowered Village administrator that has more than just clerical duties
- Reinstate the elected Office of Village Treasurer to act as an independent voice
- Increase the number of elected Councilmen to eight with the addition of two at-large-members identified by the Governance Committee
- The Mayor should be only an ex-officio member of the Planning and Architectural Review Boards
- Term limits: two successive terms for both the Mayor and Council members
Responses to this post from Mariemont Residents:
- “Agree with your assessment. There are likely 20 more examples of the lopsided nature of government in Mariemont.”
- “The problem stems from the mayor being too power hungry compounded by voter apathy and fear of reprisal. Without new faces, nothing will change.”
- “I think we would be better off pursuing term limits and would further support the hiring of a Village Administrator as the remedy for the over control of the Mayor.”
- “It should be emphasized that the Code of Ordinances governs the Village, and it specifically states that the Mayor reports to Council, not vice versa.”