Former mayors give views on Sikeston home rule charter

Wednesday, December 12, 2001

SIKESTON, Mo. - All but one of the home rule charter cities in Missouri have elected mayors who serve terms of several years in length, yet former Sikeston mayors say a mayor selected by council members to serve a one-year term works best here.

About a dozen former Sikeston mayors gathered at Monday's Home Rule Charter Commission meeting to offer their opinions on the mayoral position to the commissioners, who have spent a year drafting a framework for a new city government that will be put before voters in April.

In a "weak mayor" form of government the mayor receives no salary, lacks veto power, and cannot hire or fire, said Harry Sharp, head of the commission. Duties include presiding at council meetings and making public appearances at ceremonial events.

A "strong mayor" functions as the chief executive officer with a city administrator taking care of operations, Sharp said, and typically receives a salary. A strong mayor also has hiring-firing authority and veto power over the city council.

In 30 of approximately 32 Missouri charter cities that were surveyed, 21 have weak mayors and nine have strong mayors. He noted that in all but one, the mayor is elected by the people.

Commissioner Manuel Drumm said he was hoping to get opinions on whether the mayor should be selected by council and serve a one-year term or elected at large for a three-year term.

All but one of the former mayors indicated their support of a council-selected mayor.

"The mayor needs to be someone that can galvanize the council or bring them together," said Alan Keenan, former mayor. A mayor elected at large may not enjoy as much support from other council members as an appointee, Keenan said.

He added that having the council pick the mayor does not prevent someone from serving for more than a single year.

Former mayor Terry Bryant noted that since he and all the former mayors in the room served after being selected by council members, "we're all biased." Nevertheless, he asserted the system has worked for Sikeston.

Having a weak elected mayor, according to Bryant, would send mixed signals to the voters who may believe when they vote for a mayor that they are electing someone to the highest office when the position in reality only has the same power as other council members.

He suggested if the mayor is elected, the position should be a strong mayor.

Bryant said the present system allows the opportunity for a council member to observe the preceding mayor and learn about the position. Council members in Sikeston typically serve at least two years before being selected as mayor.

By a show of hands, most former mayors agreed it takes at least a year on the city council to get the experience necessary to serve well as mayor.

All mayors in the room also seemed to agree that the mayor gets a much greater number of calls from citizens than other council members and that three years is too long to bear the additional time burden.

Frank Ferrell, who spent three years as mayor, said he spent half his time and a portion of his own money on civic needs during his terms as mayor.

Josh Bill, who was mayor until he was replaced by Jerry Pullen last spring, said he was in favor of the mayor being selected at large, but wouldn't agree to a three-year term.

Commissioner Shad Old pointed out that if someone was elected who was not doing a satisfactory job, a recall provision in the charter gives "teeth to get rid of that person."

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