ITHACA N.Y.– The structure of Ithaca’s local government has been consistent for several years, but there could be a significant structural change in the coming year. During their April 28 meeting, the Ithaca City Administration Council proposed the introduction of the City Manager role.
The City Manager role was first introduced by Mayor Svante Myrick in his State of the City address in January 2021. After Myrick’s mention, the City Administration Council formed the working group titled, “Working Group for City Government Structure,” focused on the logistics of potentially integrating the City Manager role into Ithaca’s government structure.
“We know that we put a Chief of Staff position in place and now that that’s been in place for about five years, it’s just a good opportunity for us to take a look at some of the challenges and benefits of having someone in that role and giving us an idea of, essentially, if we were to beef that position up to the City Manager role. It will probably be an easier transition,” said Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff.
The city’s Chief of Staff, Dan Cogan, stepped down from the role earlier this year. The City Manager role would replace the Chief of Staff position and go beyond its duties.
In the City Administration Council’s April 28 meeting, the new role was described as a hire-and-fire position put in place by Common Council. The City Manager would be in charge of department heads and direct reports for the City of Ithaca and would be considered the Chief Executive Officer. The implementation of this position would lessen the load of work on the mayoral position, but the Mayor would still be considered the Chief Elected Official in the city.
“I trust the work of this working group, I think this is a smart approach. I support it,” Mayor Myrick said in the April 28 meeting. “The challenges [of current government structure] laid out when you put it all on one slide [in presentation]…it’s not working as well as it could.”
Though this position is being introduced to the public now, it will not be included in a referendum on the ballot until November 2022. Common Council still needs to vote to accept this new role and widely familiarize the public with the concept.
In her conversation with The Ithaca Voice, Mohlenhoff attributed the delay of a referendum to various election laws passed in 2019. The law requires that anything put to referendum being submitted three months prior, this leaves Council with an uncomfortable amount of time to flesh out this new role and make the change.
“We will have the first nine months of next year to do a formal public education campaign for the change,” Mohlenhoff said. “If it goes to a referendum then what we will need to do is help provide detailed information and an entire public engagement campaign on why it’s going to referendum, what it is and what the changes are.”
Though the change for City Manager is still in the early stages, Mohlenhoff believes that this move should be palatable for the public considering their success with the Chief of Staff position and commitment to making operations better.
“It will certainly allow for better and smoother more internal operations of all of the functions of city government,” Mohlenhoff said.