Who’s the boss? Mayor, council could clash over appointments

 

New Dillon Mayor Mike Klakken plans to make some changes to the city’s staff at the Jan. 15 City Council meeting, but he will likely encounter stiff resistance from some City Council members.

According to the meeting agenda, Klakken intends to elevate Deputy City Attorney James Dolan to the position of city attorney currently held by Duke Gilbert and appoint Neal D. Straus as city treasurer, while moving current city treasurer Ty Cobb into a temporary administrative assistant position through the end of March.

“I just think it’s for the betterment of Dillon,” said Klakken of the proposed staff shakeup that would remove two men appointed by his successor, Marty Malesich, from the key positions to which Malesich appointed them.

“The two people I want to appoint to those positions are very qualified and I think they would work well with the current administration,” said Klakken, who drove Malesich from City Hall by topping the three-term incumbent by 10 percentage points in the November election.

“I don’t have any bad feelings against Ty Cobb or Duke Gilbert, it’s just my opinion that the other two would fit better.”

Some councilpersons are of a different opinion on Cobb and Gilbert, and over whether Klakken even has the authority to replace them.

“We have a new mayor and I think he’s on a learning curve right now,” said Ward 3 Councilperson Swede Troedsson, who previously served 12 years on the Council and is returning Wednesday after a long hiatus for his first regular City Council meeting in years as a councilperson.

“I think he has to accept that under our charter, our Council has the power. He can do very little without consent of Council, and that’s an exact quote out of the charter. He can’t hire staff and he can’t fire staff without the consent of Council,” said Troedsson, who won the Ward 3 seat vacated by Ray White last year as a write-in candidate after being urged to run by Malesich.

“Any replacements he proposes probably won’t happen unless the person in the position voluntarily resigns or screws up so bad that the Council has just cause to agree to have him removed. And I don’t think we’re in that position right now.”

But Klakken believes the city charter and ordinances put him in position to determine who serves on his staff and that City Council should consent to his appointments.

“It says in the legislative section of the city ordinances that ‘Neither the Council, nor the Council members shall in any manner dictate the appointment or removal of any City officers or employees whom the Mayor or any subordinates are empowered to appoint,’” said Klakken, who served on Dillon’s City Council from 2004–2008

“I take that to mean that if the City Council has a legitimate reason for believing the person I’m appointing is not qualified, fine, let that be known, that would help protect the city. But otherwise, they pretty much have to go with whom I appoint,” asserted Klakken, who said Cobb and Gilbert’s appointments by Malesich have actually expired.

“Ty Cobb got a four-year appointment four years ago and Duke Gilbert got a two-year appointment two years ago. They would have to be reappointed, and I’ve decided not to do that.

“I’m not dismissing them; I’m just not reappointing them.”

Troedsson insists that Klakken needs Council’s consent on the matter, and that he doesn’t have it.

“I think Mike can avert a lot of embarrassment to himself and dissension at the Council table if he will avail himself of the Council when he makes an agenda and when he’s thinking of proposing something to the Council,” said Troedsson, who moved to Dillon in 1965.

“We want to help Mike do a good job. But it’s a two-way street—we need to live by mutual understanding. That’s the way it is; that’s the way the charter is set up; and that’s the way the code is set up.

“I would hope that the new mayor accepts that his role is as a facilitator, not as a ruler,” concluded Troedsson.

Klakken said he did reach out to Council members about his planned personnel moves and got little in the way of useful feedback. And he believes that the city ordinances were redesigned in the 1990s, in part, to help protect the mayor from City Council getting too involved in the mayor’s personnel decisions.

“The city charter restricts City Council’s power in that area because the city had problems back during Jim Wilson’s time as mayor [1984–97] when the City Council was going around the mayor and trying to tell city what to do. So I believe to fix those problems, the study commission that adjusted the city charter in the mid-1990s put those lines in there that restrict Council members ability to dictate the mayor’s appointments to eliminate these kinds of problems.

“Or they were supposed to eliminate these kinds of problems. We’ll see if they work,” said Klakken.

“It could go smoothly or it could turn into a real drag-out fight. I hope it goes smoothly. I’m trying to keep a positive outlook on all of this.”