ITHACA, N.Y.—When the College of Cardinals elects a new Pope to lead the Catholic Church, the selection is signaled by a plume of white smoke released from the top of the Vatican, normally to the cheers of scores of patrons eagerly awaiting the identity of the new leader.

The scene was slightly less ceremonious around 8 p.m. Wednesday night, when the City of Ithaca officially decided that it will create a City Manager position, pending the results of a referendum in November 2022.

There was no discussion at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, as the proposal passed unanimously and without significant additional changes from what had previously been presented. The public will have the final decision on the actual installation of a City Manager, however.

“The effectiveness of the ordinance, if [Council does] vote for it, is contingent upon the local law being approved at referendum,” clarified City Attorney Ari Lavine. “The ordinance won’t have any effect unless the local law also takes effect because they work together.”

The reasoning remains the same as previously reported: city officials, including Mayor Svante Myrick, who first introduced the idea, believe that the city manager method would better serve Ithaca residents by installing a person who is assured to have the “education, credentials, and experience required to administer the City’s operations.” They also believe the current mayoral role is too expansive for one person to effectively handle, and that the salary currently allotted to the position (about $58K per year) is insufficient for its job duties.

The cost to the city is about the same, according to the proposal’s claims: the mayor, their executive assistant, and the chief of staff currently cost the city about $213,000 annually in salary and benefits. Under the new plan, the city manager would earn a bit more than the current chief of staff, while the mayor’s salary would decrease slightly.

A refresher on the roles that would be changing hands:

There are potential drawbacks, like that city residents are unable to vote for who will be “the CEO of the city,” who will now be chosen through an appointment process by the mayor and approved by Common Council.

But the city’s proposal seems to address that, rightly or wrongly, by stating that voters would have the same accountability measures they do now on Common Council members, with the same regularly held elections and terms, and that the voters’ influence over the city manager would be felt through their votes for Common Council members. The City Manager would be tasked with enacting the policies of Common Council—theoretically, by representatives who are endorsed by the majority of their constituents—and serve at Common Council’s will. Whoever is approved will enter the job with a “4 to 5 year term” that includes contractual language allowing the council to terminate early if they decide to.

“An alternative form of government would allow Common Council to select and hire a trained, experienced person in the role of City Manager to be the chief executive officer of the City and would allow the electorate to choose a mayor who is the political leader of the city as well as a voting member and Chair of Common Council,” states the legislation.

In addition to what will surely be a normal, cordial and fun mid-term election season, the public will have a chance to accept or reject the City Manager proposal this time next year.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com