The Hillsdale City Council will research changing the city charter so the city clerk and treasurer positions are appointed instead of elected.
Acting City Manager Doug Terry, who recommended the motion at Monday’s meeting, said he believes this will put the most “efficient and effective” people in the roles of city clerk and city treasurer.
“My intention is to put in an organized foundation to make sure this city is run in an efficient manner,” Terry said. “The citizens have to have confidence that we have somebody in place.”
Councilperson Adam Stockford opposed the motion, saying both positions should be chosen by the people.
The city clerk is responsible for monitoring elections, keeping track of qualified voter profiles, keeping official city documents, and assisting citizens with general questions, while the city treasurer keeps track of the city’s money, which is partly accumulated by tax revenue. Since both positions interact directly with the electorate, Stockford believes both positions should be elected by the people.
“As a representative government, people are allowed to choose their public officials,” Stockford said. “We’re talking about positions so close to the people that you go out to the front door to greet your constituents.”
Councilperson Bruce Sharp raised concerns over the proposed $18,000 pay raise for the city clerk position, which was recommended by the Officers Compensation Committee and discussed by council at its Feb. 16 meeting.
“Where’s this money going to come from, and on whose backs?” Sharp said. “The fire department? Police? My concern is we just went through public safety hiring part time because they don’t have enough money. I want to make sure we can afford this and not on the backs of other city workers.”
Despite Sharp’s and Stockford’s concerns, Terry proceeded with the motion to research changing the charter to make the positions appointed, which council approved 5 – 3.
“The safety with having an appointment is he’s answerable to you,” Terry said. “One safeguard is you have an efficient and effective means of evaluation; you have direct ability to remove, discipline, or change. I don’t believe it’s more effective having an elected clerk and treasurer. I stand by my memo. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
The council also approved more compensation for the city clerk position, which will increase its salary from $7,435 to $26,000.
According to data compiled by Matt Bach, the Michigan Municipal League Director of Media Relations, and Indeed.com, the average salary for a full-time, city clerk position in a city with a population size of approximately 8,000 is around $30,000. The calculated salary for the position in Hillsdale, which has a population of 8,305, is $33,000.
Councilperson Emily Stack Davis opposed the motion to approve the compensation because she is worried about candidates running for the wrong motives.
“Council hasn’t ensured the stability of the clerk department,” Stack Davis told the Collegian. “One of the concerns is an elected clerk has no accountability to the city manager. An elected official is still subject to the will of the people, and you could get someone who’s not terrible but not really wonderful.”
Sharp shared Stack Davis’s concern, asking again where the council would get money for an $18,000-salary increase for the clerk position.
Stockford supported the compensation for city clerk, which the council approved 5 – 3 Monday.
“Ideally I’d like to see the pay raise, become a full-time job, and the position remain elected,” Stockford said.
The council voted 7 – 1 to appoint Michelle Loren as the acting city clerk until elections in November — or until it changes the charter and appoints a city clerk. For the past two years, Loren has filled the role of city clerk in addition to her role as director of the Recreation Department.
In other business, council approved Director of Chamber of Commerce Christine Bowman’s request to move the 24th Annual Classic Car Show and Summerfest from the Hillsdale County Fairgrounds to downtown Hillsdale. This year, cars in the show will be charged a fee, while general admission will be free.
“WCSR will be our voice for the day, which will be fantastic,” Bowman said. “I think this could be a really positive event not just for the chamber but for the city as well.”
Hillsdale County Commissioner Ruth Brown informed the council of an upcoming Hillsdale County Suicide Prevention Coalition event on April 27, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The event, which will cost $20 per person, will train participants in suicide prevention.
“Suicide in Hillsdale is a two-sided coin,” Brown said. “Part of it is education of leaders in our community, like police and hospital. I’m very proud we’re bringing this to Hillsdale for the first time ever.”