The Undercurrent: Attorney sheds light on city administrator requirements

Kathryn Jones

Kathryn Jones

Is a city administrator basically the same thing, in terms of roles, as a city manager? Can the city council require a city administrator to live in the city limits but not a city manager? Is a city administrator a distinctive administrative position or is that person basically a department head?

These are some of the questions raised by readers last week after the Glen Rose City Council set a job description, qualifications and posted an ad for the city administrator position on this website and others. The response to the ad has been immediate, with applicants coming from Texas and out of state. A review committee has been appointed to “weed out” the applications and present the top candidates to the council.

We wanted to get to the bottom of the role of a city administrator and whether one would be required to live within the city limits – which seems imminently reasonable, fair and proper. Former City Administrator Ken West, who left the position earlier this month, continued to live in the Metroplex and commute during his 15 months on the job, which became a point of contention for some residents.

However, the Local Government Code specifically says residency is not a requirement for city managers. The title of “city administrator” is not mentioned specifically in the State of Texas’ Local Government Code, which sets out the rules for municipalities.

We contacted the Texas Municipal League, a nonprofit organization based in Austin that works with Texas cities on legislative, legal and educational issues. Scott Houston, deputy executive director and general counsel, answered our questions.

The Local Government Code used to require that cities hold an election before creating a city manager position and the council-manager form of government. That was changed by legislation that now also allows city councils to appoint municipal officers by ordinance.

Glen Rose, which has a mayor-council form of government, is classified as a type A general law city. Chapter 22 Local Government Code authorizes such cities to create management positions by ordinance or personnel policy, Houston noted. Here’s the language from the code:

Sec. 22.071.  OTHER MUNICIPAL OFFICERS. (a) In addition to the members of the governing body of the municipality, the other officers of the municipality are the secretary, treasurer, assessor and collector, municipal attorney, marshal, municipal engineer, and any other officers or agents authorized by the governing body.

(b) The governing body by ordinance shall provide for the election or appointment of the officers provided by this section.

(c) The governing body may confer on other municipal officers the powers and duties of an officer provided for by this section.

“Usually, cities call the position city administrator, but it can be called whatever the council wished,” Houston explained.

The confusion comes because Chapter 25 of the code pertains to city managers and it states that residency is not a requirement. But in its 2002 opinion, the Texas Attorney General’s office said that neither the AG’s office nor the Texas Legislature made distinctions between a city manager and a city administrator. Read the opinion here: Tex. Att’y Gen. Op. No. JC-0544 (2002) — John Cornyn Administration

“The opinion essentially held that a general law city can’t create a staff leadership position (e.g., city manager or city administrator) without having held an election to do so under LGC chapter 25,” Houston said. “That was very bad for Texas cities, because over 300 of them had done that.”

So the TML, directed by its membership, lobbied for legislation that basically “overruled” the AG’s opinion, Houston said. The bill passed into law in 2003. You can read it at this link: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/78R/billtext/pdf/SB00734F.pdf#navpanes=0

“Thus, Chapter 25 does not control the position in your (Glen Rose’s) case,” Houston concluded.

However, the Local Government Code, Section 150.021, does describe residency requirements for municipal employees:

“Sec. 150.021.  RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS FOR MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES. (a) A municipality may not require residency within the municipal limits as a condition of employment with the municipality. A municipality may require residency within the United States as a condition of employment.

(b) The prohibition under Subsection (a) does not apply to residency requirements for:

(1) candidates for or holders of a municipal office, including a position on the governing body of the municipality; or

(2) municipal department heads appointed by the mayor or governing body of the municipality.

(c) The governing body of a municipality may prescribe reasonable standards with respect to the time within which municipal employees who reside outside the municipal limits must respond to a civil emergency. The standards may not be imposed retroactively on any person in the employ of the municipality at the time the standards are adopted.”

Houston said a city administrator is a “department head.” That means “a city council can require residency if it so chooses,” he added.

The council is requiring the next Glen Rose city administrator to live or move to Glen Rose or Somervell County within six months of hiring. That raises other questions: What if the most qualified person lives in, say, Cleburne, and has kids going to school there? What if the person can’t sell a home? Does where people sleep at night and have a residence mean they can’t do a good job in another town (if that were true, all of us commuters would be in trouble)? Is any of that negotiable?

In West’s defense, although he didn’t live in Glen Rose, he was very visible around town, attending Chamber of Commerce luncheons, civic club meetings and ribbon cuttings when new businesses opened. His brusque style sometimes rubbed people the wrong way, and there certainly were some members of the council who wanted him gone – not making moves to fire him (he had a contract), but questioning his ability to do his job and requesting more and more and more reports. Nothing he did was ever good enough for some people — and, at a salary of $90,000 plus a car allowance, they expected a lot.

Certainly, the city administrator serves at the pleasure of the council and members can make such requests and have high expectations. But anyone sitting in the audience at a city council meeting, especially after the May election, could see that some council members had West in their crosshairs. He told me he had had enough of being micro-managed, second-guessed and chastised. He also had another job offer. So Glen Rose’s first real city administrator resigned.

A city administrator seems to be held under a different set of standards, even from a city manager. I hope the next administrator will move to Glen Rose, stay a while and do a good job. Let’s hope the next city administrator comes in without issues hanging over his or her head and that the entire council will get behind this person instead of trying to make the job more difficult.

Kathryn Jones is editor of the Glen Rose Current. She can be reached at editor@glenrosecurrent.com. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to The Undercurrent: Attorney sheds light on city administrator requirements

  1. charley thomas Reply

    August 30, 2013 at 8:44 am

    THANKS FOR THE RESEARCH AND EXPLANATIO. WE MISS SEEING YOU

    FRAN & CHARLEY

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