Monday, February 26, 2024

Council talks about city administrator

Staff Writer | February 9, 2024 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — With six weeks since former city administrator Jennifer Stapleton stepped down from her role, Sandpoint City Council members and Mayor Jeremy Grimm discussed what that role might look like in the future — if it exists at all.

This item was placed on the agenda of Wednesday's council meeting by Jason Welker, council president, and Councilor Joel Aispuro to ensure that the city is abiding by Idaho Code. 

“I don’t think a lot of the public is aware that we do have ordinance in state law that has the city administrator position currently what’s identified as an appointive position,” Welker said in launching the discussion. 

According to Idaho State Code 50-204, it is the mayor’s responsibility to appoint officers when those positions become vacant. With that in mind, Welker said he put the item on the agenda so the council could discuss the future of appointed positions within the city. 

“Do we want to talk about changing those,” Welker asked. “Or do you plan to appoint a city administrator sometime in the near future?”

When Grimm ran for election in fall 2023, a foundation of his campaign was on “re-evaluating and assessing” the city administrator position. 

“As you all know, I ran on a platform that seemed to be well supported by the public to look at our organization and how that works, and [ask] is that position right for a town of this size.”

Grimm asked the council to wait a few months before deciding whether to redefine, eliminate, or fill the city administrator’s position. 

“I'd like to see where we're at in a few months,” he said. “And you know, I don't think that position is critical. I think another option the city has is to go to, not a part-time, a full-time mayor." 

Grimm shared an organization chart outlining his thoughts on the position, which at the moment, combines administrative duties with tasks of a public information officer directly below the mayor. 

“The title for me — public information officer — you know, in my little world I see that as being the mayor's job,” Councilor Deb Ruehle said. “You should be the interface. You were elected to provide the public with what they want. And yes, there might be a workload in such that there would need to be some assistance there.” 

Councilor Pam Duquette said her interpretation of the rules is that they give Grimm the ability to decide the future of the city administrator role. 

“You did campaign on not having that position, and you were elected,” she said. “… You do have the right in the AIC. The Association of Idaho Cities says the mayor should be the hiring and firing up employees. In our personnel file dated 2019, the city personnel policy says the mayor or his or her designee may appoint personnel … To me, it just seems like it's your choice.”

She later clarified she did not mean Grimm “ruled the roost,” but more that he deserved the chance to create his proposal on how to organize the city’s leadership structure.

“I don’t want anybody to get the wrong idea,” she said. “I was just saying that’s my opinion. If we’re discussing your ability to do that, you have that ability and then we have the ability to back it or not.”

However, Aispuro said that, despite campaign goals, certain actions may not all fall within what is permissible according to code. 

“Yes, your campaign was XYZ,” he said. “Your campaign could have been ‘I'm gonna fire Chief Coon.’ Regardless of what your campaign was, you can't do that. And I just want the public to know what you can and cannot do. So the discussion here is, some of us may not feel comfortable moving right away to removing an appointed position, which would you agree is up to us as a council?”

To which the mayor responded, “Absolutely.”

Aispuro confirmed that Grimm is not asking the council to eliminate the position, but instead give him time to organize a proposal on the future of the position.

The item was discussion only and no action was taken by the council.

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