Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 7, 2013

Deputy mayor position nixed as vote split along party lines

By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— GOSHEN – There will be no new deputy mayor position for the city of Goshen, at least for the time being.

In a split along party lines, members of the Goshen City Council voted three in favor, four against a proposed ordinance establishing a deputy mayor position for the city during their meeting Tuesday evening. Voting against the measure were Republicans Edward Ahlersmeyer, Jim McKee, Dixie Robinson and Brett Weddell. Voting for the ordinance were Democrats Julia Gautsche, Jeremy Stutsman and Everett Thomas.

Tuesday’s meeting was the second time the proposed ordinance appeared before the council. A proposal to pass the ordinance was first introduced at the council’s July 16 meeting, where it was postponed for a month in order to allow the council more time to examine the proposal and iron out any questions or concerns.

The ordinance

Under the proposed ordinance, the deputy mayor, who would be appointed by the mayor, would essentially serve in place of the mayor whenever he or she is absent from the county, ill, or injured. Through that appointment, the deputy mayor would essentially gain all of the acting mayor’s powers and duties.

However, as the rules currently stand, any appointee chosen by the mayor can only be selected from the current city council, and must be announced publicly at a Board of Public Works and Safety meeting — something current Mayor Allan Kauffman said he has a particular problem with due to familial safety and security concerns.

According to city attorney Larry Barkes, acceptance of the new ordinance would have expanded that process primarily in three ways.

The first notable change would have been that the mayor would no longer be required to publicly announce a temporary vacancy of his position, and would instead only be required to notify the council president and the clerk-treasurer.

Barkes also noted that adoption of the new ordinance would enable a smoother transition when faced with the need to find a permanent replacement in the event the acting mayor becomes seriously ill or dies.

Thirdly, the new ordinance would expand the pool of available candidates for deputy mayor to beyond just those individuals currently serving on the city council. Under current state law, in the event a city has no deputy mayor, the mayor must choose a current council member as a replacement if mayoral duties are unable to be performed.

The decision

While a majority of the council’s members voiced support of the overall idea of a deputy mayor, in the end the concerns outweighed the positives when it came to an eventual vote on the ordinance’s passage.

Among the most prominent concerns voiced during Tuesday’s meeting dealt with how much leeway the mayor should have in appointing a deputy mayor. Some among the council felt that the choice should be limited to only city employees. Others felt it should be limited to only city council members, or possibly event the sitting council president. Still others felt it should be opened to anyone who is a current city resident.

For his part, Council President Jim McKee said he would prefer that city council members be excluded from the choice entirely, primarily due to partisanship concerns, and the choice should instead be limited to a pool of just city employees.

“My preference would be that it not be someone on the council,” McKee said. “But I don’t think I’m interested in enlarging it, only because I think that our city employees who are here every day and do this for a living are so up to date, even more so probably than most of the people on the council.”

Councilman Ahlersmeyer agreed, adding that if a council member must be chosen for the position, he would like that person to be the sitting council president.

“I don’t mind the opportunity to exclude the council,” Ahlersmeyer said. “I think it just removes the political nature of the decision for you. I think if it could be a member of the council, then I think the council president would be the primary person to select for that position. And I don’t want to dictate who you select, so if we remove the council from it, I think it removes the politics from the decision.”

Also surfacing as a primary factor in the eventual defeat of the ordinance was a concern by several council members about what would happen to a council member’s duties to his or her constituents if called to fill the deputy mayor position.

“I just think that the people have elected all of us to represent them, and if you’re busy being the deputy mayor, it’s just like life in general... something has to give,” McKee said. “So I question whether it would even be doing a fair job for the people that elected us if we have to get tied up (in the deputy mayor position.”

Councilman Weddell echoed McKee’s comments.

“If you’re out of office for any length of time, it would take away my ability, or any of us, to take calls from our constituents,” Weddell said. “In the event that it’s an extended period of time, where that deputy mayor would be appointed for up to six months, that’s were I feel the voters lose out on this process, because we were elected to serve them, whether it was a specific district or at large.

“That’s my concern with this,” he continued. “It has nothing to do with (the mayor) not being able to appoint a deputy mayor. I think it’s a valid position to have, and I would want it if I were in your position as well. I’m looking out for the people that voted us into office.”

While Tuesday’s proposed ordinance was defeated, the council did not rule out the possibility of revisiting the deputy mayor appointment at a later date, though exactly when and in what form that may occur was not immediately addressed.