MOUNT CARMEL — While there are some benefits to reducing the mayor’s term from four years to two, the Mount Carmel Board of Mayor and Aldermen agreed last week that the cons outweigh the pros.
During its Aug. 27 meeting, the BMA took no action on a proposal to reduce the mayor’s term, which would require a change in the charter, a potential referendum, and aldermen’s terms to be reduced to two years as well.
Pat Hardy of the University of Tennessee’s Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) presented the BMA with information about changing the length of terms for elected board members during a workshop held Aug. 11. Part of Hardy’s report was a list of pros and cons regarding a change in the mayor’s length of term to two years.
• The mayor may be held more accountable for his or her actions by being elected more often.
• Leadership-related issues may receive more public discussion and accountability because they will be brought up more often as a part of more frequent elections.
• Most council-manager forms of municipal government have two-year mayoral terms and most strong-mayor forms have four. Hardy said this is considered a pro because Mount Carmel currently operates under a council-administrator form of government.
• Most council-manager (or council-administrator) forms utilize the “two-year mayor selected from among the board” model so that the office of mayor is “one among equals.” In other words, the office does not have any extraordinary authority or “power.”
• Research has shown that the office of mayor will achieve more under a longer term of office.
• The town will have to pay for additional elections.
• A mayor may not pick up the requisite skills to be successful in only two years. A four-year term allows the mayor more time to “grow” in the office. Most board members will tell you it takes at least two years even to begin to understand all the responsibilities associated with governing and to be effective at it. Thus, two-year terms may reduce a board mayor’s effectiveness.
• The office of the mayor may become more politicized as even minor issues are more frequently brought before the public.
• The office of the mayor may become somewhat immobilized or unwilling to make necessary but difficult decisions because of being subject to re-election more often.
• A two-year term discourages a longer-term view from the office of mayor.
• The mayor will be required to spend more and more time campaigning for office.
• A longer term allows the mayor to develop more and stronger relationships with key constituent groups such as the staff, other board members, and community groups.
“It takes at least two years to get your feet wet”
The BMA agreed that because there was no resolution or ordinance on the agenda, no action was required to table the proposal for now.
“I think it wouldn’t be feasible because we’d have to pay for that election if we go to change it,” said Vice Mayor Pat Stilwell. “That would cost us more money in the long run. When you start as a new mayor, it takes at least two years to get your feet wet and to know what you’re trying to accomplish, and it takes a while to accomplish something.”
Alderman Garrett White had suggested the two-year terms for mayor during a BMA meeting earlier this year, and the subject was raised again last month by Alderman Steven McLain.
“I still think it’s a good idea,” White said. “I just don’t think it’s practical right now. Certainly I don’t think you should have an alderman election every two years. Either you stagger every two years or you could have a complete change-over every two years.”
Hardy concluded in his presentation to the BMA that there does not seem to be a practical way to move the mayoral office to a two-year term, other than to hold a referendum to change the town’s charter.
“If this is considered, all kinds of additional discussions will need to be held in order to be sure of a proper fit of a different charter for Mount Carmel,” Hardy said. “A former mayor of Indianapolis and advisor to President George Bush — and now a professor at the JFK School of Government at Harvard — points out that the issue is ‘largely dependent on the person.’ This implies that a longer term may work best when a high-quality, well-liked mayor is in office.”
Hardy added, “But conversely, when this is not the case, a two-year term would be best. Thus, the decision has both practical challenges (changing the Mount Carmel charter) as well as challenges related to personalities. In fact, an excellent mayor will help inspire and move a community forward in either a two- or four-year term.”
Mission and vision statements changed
The BMA voted unanimously to approve the town’s new mission statement and vision statement, which Mayor Jennifer Williams said had been slightly “tweaked” by removing a few words.
City Manager Mike Housewright said the original version was a little “wordy” with some “lawyer-speak” that wasn’t needed. The new version basically says the same thing in fewer words, Housewright said.
Mount Carmel’s new mission statement: “To effectively serve the interests and efficiently meet the needs of the citizens, residents, employees, and visitors of the Town of Mount Carmel, Tennessee, through sound governance, steady administration, and a commitment to equal representation of all those within the community.”
Mount Carmel’s new vision statement: “To create a community with a healthy populace, a thriving economy, aesthetic beauty, and a wealth of opportunity that attracts and retains active and engaged citizens.”