Lenexa council changing city administrator’s title to city manager to reflect duties, powers

Lenexa City Hall.

Lenexa city leaders have taken first steps to change the city administrator’s title to city manager.

Discussion of the title change comes ahead of the pending retirement of Lenexa city administrator Eric Wade, who plans to stay on staff for a few months alongside his replacement to facilitate a smooth transition next year.

The Lenexa council in its Dec. 18 meeting voted 6-1 on an ordinance for the title change. Councilmember Bill Nicks cast the single dissenting vote. Councilmember Thomas Nolte was absent for the vote and council discussion.

Lenexa city attorney Cindy Harmison said that in a presentation earlier this month to the council, a search consultant with Strategic Government Resources suggested that the title change to city manager would best fit Wade’s current responsibilities and duties. The search consultant also found that the title change would widen the city’s search for Wade’s replacement and would be more likely to attract candidates.

The council’s ordinance change required a simple majority and goes into effect upon publication.

Ultimately, a city manager would have more authority over city functions and require less council approval on certain tasks, such as hiring and firing department directors. The way city code is written now, that responsibility lies with the council.

Harmison said an addendum to the ordinance on the title change stipulates that the city manager would seek input from the council on hiring and firing department directors.

Concerns about council authority over department heads

Lenexa councilmember Bill Nicks voted against the ordinance changing the city administrator’s title to city manager.

Nicks said he was against the title change, citing his concerns with ceding hiring/firing responsibilities to a city manager.

“I think by giving away the hiring and firing of department heads, we are sacrificing responsiveness, effectiveness and, ultimately, our responsibility,” Nicks said. “And I do not think that is good. Our current system has served us well the past 30 years.”

Nicks said he thinks department directors may give “filtered” responses to the council because they could be fired by the city manager.

The council could later decide to make the title change through a charter ordinance, which requires six yes-votes from the eight-member council, Harmison said. A charter ordinance would go into effect at a later date, to allow time for 10 percent of voting citizens to file a protest petition.

Harmison said the city should begin advertising for Wade’s replacement in early January. For the sake of that timeline, she had recommended at the Dec. 18 meeting that the council approve a city ordinance to bring about the title change.

The charter ordinance will follow in February.

Nicks said he doesn’t think the council is unanimous on next steps moving forward with the title change, indicating to him that “we like the way things are.”

However, most of the councilmembers expressed support for the title change and indicated that the council can still fire a city manager if they agree his or her performance is inadequate.

“We have been behaving this way for so long, and I think that’s why we have so much success,” said councilmember Dan Roh. “It has been working; my perspective is let’s formalize it.”

Councilmember Andy Huckaba wanted to clarify the city attorney’s relationship with the city manager and council, considering that the title change would allow a city manager to remove the city attorney from her position.

Harmison said that if a city manager asked her to keep something secret from the council or do anything illegal or unethical, she would have to step down from her position, which could alert the council that something was amiss. Additionally, that attorney-manager-council relationship can be clarified in an ordinance.

Wade said that, ultimately, the city attorney and city manager will continue to serve the same council and same organization, regardless of the title change.

The title change will require a recodification of city code, affecting more than 50 areas of the code that refer to the “city administrator” and/or the “deputy city administrator,” Harmison said. Additionally, the council must re-adopt all “Governing Body Policies” for consistency with the title change, she added.

Prior to the meeting, Mayor Michael Boehm said the title change would have no effect on a candidate’s potential salary. Rather, the city will offer a salary based on the candidate’s qualifications and experience.