SIKESTON - All but one of the home rule charter cities in Missouri have elected mayors who serve terms of several years in length, yet former Sikeston mayors seem to agree a mayor selected by fellow council members to serve a one-year term works best here. "Why is Sikeston so different?" asked Harry Sharp, charter commission chairman.
Approximately a dozen former Sikeston mayors gathered at Monday's Home Rule Charter Commission meeting to offer their opinions on the mayoral position to the commissioners.
In a "weak mayor" form of government the mayor receives no salary or a nominal sum such as a single dollar, has no veto power, and does not have the authority to hire or fire, according to Sharp. Duties include presiding at council meetings and making public appearances such as at ribbon cuttings or other photo opportunities.
A "strong mayor" functions as the chief executive officer with a city administrator taking care of operations, Sharp said, and typically receives a salary. A strong mayor also has hiring-firing authority and veto power over the city council.
Sharp said in 30 of approximately 32 Missouri charter cities information was gathered on, 21 have weak mayors and nine have strong mayors. He noted that in all but one, the mayor is elected by the people.
Commissioner Manuel Drumm said he was hoping to get opinions on whether the mayor should be selected by council and serve a one-year term or elected at large for a three-year term. "I think that's the issue that I was interested in."
All but one of the former mayors indicated their support of a council-selected mayor.
"The mayor needs to be someone that can galvanize the council or bring them together," said Alan Keenan, former mayor. A mayor elected at large, said Keenan, "may or may not enjoy the support of the other council members." He added that having the council pick the mayor does not prevent someone from serving for more than a single year.
Terry Bryant conceded, however, that as he and all the former mayors in the room served in the position after being selected by council members, "we're all biased." However, he asserted the system "has worked for this community."
Having a weak elected mayor, according to Bryant, would send mixed signals to the voters who may believe when they vote for a mayor that they are electing someone to the highest office when the position in reality only has the same power as other council members. He suggested if the mayor is elected, that the position should be a strong mayor.
Bryant said the present system allows the opportunity for a council member to observe the preceding mayor and learn about the position. Council members in Sikeston typically serve at least two years before being selected as mayor.
By a show of hands, most former mayors agreed it takes at least a year on the city council to get the experience necessary to serve well as mayor.
All mayors in the room also seemed to agree that the mayor gets a much greater number of calls from citizens than other council members and that three years is too long to bear the additional time burden.
Frank Ferrell, who spent three years as mayor, said he "spent about 50 percent of my time" as well as money out of his own pocket during his terms as mayor.
Josh Bill, who served in the position prior to the present mayor, said he was in favor of the mayor being selected at large, "but wouldn't give them a three-year term," he said, preferring "a one-year term or two at the maximum."
Commissioner Shad Old pointed out, however, that if someone was elected who was not doing a satisfactory job, the recall provision creates "teeth to get rid of that person."
Troy Wilson, commissioner, posed the question of where a mayor's allegiance lies when selected by council instead of elected at large, but the former mayors maintained their allegiance remained with the residents regardless of how they came into the position.
Commissioners and former mayors agreed the mandate from the people was to implement wards and discussed the advantages and disadvantages of wards.
Commissioners also addressed a question from the former mayors on the budget review process in the charter for autonomous boards and a question regarding the conflict of interest section which would apparently prevent council members from having a social lunch in some situations. "It doesn't say who pays - even if he buys his lunch, he's precluded," said Keenan.
Brian Menz, commission secretary, agreed the effect seemed contrary to the purpose of making council members more accessible to constituents.
In other home rule charter commission business, the first of two public input meetings during which commissioners will present the charter to the people was scheduled for 10 a.m. Monday. The second meeting will be scheduled in January during the evening hours.
Commissioners intend to ask for a review of their work, according to Sharp, and are hoping to "hear from people from every corner of the community."
Sharp said commissioners anticipate there will not be any additional votes by commissioners until sometime in late January after they have considered all public input.