The Mesa Chamber of Commerce is exploring a potentially dicey ballot issue that would grant the city’s mayor a greater role in economic development.
The chamber insists it’s not working to create the kind of “strong mayor” government typical in major U.S. cities. Rather, the business group wants to ensure the mayor and City Council develop a plan for attracting jobs to Mesa and then report their progress to voters. Also, the chamber proposes an independent commission that would set the salary for the mayor and City Council.
The proposal is still being refined with the idea voters could change the city charter this fall, said Otto Shill, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors.
“This isn’t an effort to change the mayor’s duties or anyone’s duties,” Shill said. “As much as anything, it’s about suggesting expectations for the future based on elected officials today.”
Like most Arizona cities, Mesa has a mayor whose powers are roughly equal to fellow members on the City Council. The elected officials theoretically work part-time under this council-manager form of government that puts day-to-day government operations in the hands of appointed officials. Many cities adopted this system a century ago in response to strong mayors who were notorious for rampant cronyism in urban centers like New York City and Chicago.
Mayor Scott Smith has treated the job as a full-time position, working 40 hours to 60 hours a week for $37,000 a year.
Shill said the chamber’s proposal is a result of the business community feeling good about economic development under Smith and the City Council in the last four years. The charter proposal would reinforce the importance of economic development to future elected officials, he said.
Mayor Scott Smith said he doesn’t believe the proposal would grant him any significant new powers – and that he’s not seeking greater authority.
“In the last four years, I’ve been able to work within our current system. I’m not pushing for any changes in the balance of the system,” he said. “That’s not the kind of initiative or debate that I’m ready to have right now.”
The chamber is also tackling the thorny issue of compensation for elected officials. Mesa and other East Valley cities have their council set their own pay, which inevitably leads to criticism. Shill said the chamber began exploring the issue by comparing the mayor’s annual salary with neighboring communities – and deciding the chamber shouldn’t make a recommendation.
“Our conclusion was that it’s hard and probably inappropriate to have people set their own compensation, so we thought creating an appropriate process was the right thing to do,” he said.
The City Council is working on another potential city charter change that would tweak the succession policy should the mayor leave office. Now, the vice mayor would complete the term. But if a mayor left early in a term, the city could have an unelected mayor for much of the four-year term. The charter amendment would require a mayoral election if more than two years of that term remained.
Smith said that would fall in line with the current rules for when a council member’s position opens up and ensures voters have a greater say.
“You literally could have an unelected mayor for quite a long time,” without the change, Smith said.
The proposals are expected to reach the City Council within one or two weeks.
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