Council hopefuls take aim at noncandidate: city manager
With less than one day to go to city elections, challengers are scurrying around ringing as many doorbells as they can, trying to get their message out, whether it be for economic prosperity, slow growth or quality of life issues.
One thing most challengers have in common is that they want to either replace or neuter City Manager Robert W. Healy, saying he is too powerful — “all powerful” according to some — after decades in that position.
Most also concede Healy, at 24 years and counting the longest-lasting city manager, is doing a really good job. To them, that’s bad, because it makes him even more powerful.
Some challengers, such as Robert LaTrémouille, who is running for councilor for the third time — he ran once in 1979 and in 2003 — want Healy gone.
“I think the city manager should be fired, and the City Council should be fired for not firing him,” he said.
But few give much credence to LaTrémouille’s candidacy.
“He calls city councilors murderers,” said mathematics professor and political pundit Robert Winters. “Virtually everybody has written him off.”
LaTrémouille may have some extreme views on the environment, geese and “living beings” in general, but he is not alone in his feelings toward the city manager.
Challenger Lawrence Adkins said he agrees Healy must go.
“We should pat him on the back and say, ‘Good job,’” Adkins said, then get a new city manager.
As for talk of firing Healy, Winters said, “That’s bold talk. It’s a nice populist position. If you are not a city councilor, it’s easy to say.”
But once someone gets elected and works with Healy, Winters said, they generally find him competent and tend to defer to his wisdom as he appoints people to various committees and commissions such as the Board of Zoning Appeals. Most challengers say the council’s complacency is the whole problem. Whether it is Healy or anyone else in the city manager’s seat, the issue is whether the council should at least have the power to vote on city manager appointments.
“Let’s be realistic,” challenger Robert Hall Sr. said. “If you have had a position as long as he has and appointed as many people as he has, it’s easy for you to manage the system the way you see it.”
Challenger Andre Green agrees:
“Healy has done a great job,” he said. “But in 25 years he has grown so experienced that he runs the city. He is so all-powerful I don’t know how much we can change things. We need to shift appointment power to the City Council.”
And challenger Sam Seidel:
“Councils come and go, but the city manager sticks around,” Seidel said. “Healy has been very successful at managing the city, and as a result has garnered a lot of power. He writes the budget and executes it. By many measures he has done it well. But I think with boards and commissions there should be some oversight. People want to know their councilors are paying attention.”
Healy has assured that he has never used his power to try to influence the votes or actions of an appointee, a statement even his strongest critics could not contradict.
“I can’t give a solid reason for changing it,” challenger Bill Hees said. “But in general terms, the City Council needs more oversight over the city manager’s operations and appointments.”
Challenger Jesse Gordon was the most vocal of the group, saying the current lineup of councilors is made up of people who are not “reform minded” like him and “don’t want to fight the tough fights.”
Ultimately the council has the power to fire Healy, but based on his job performance, which even his critics say has been good, that is unlikely. The best one can hope for if they want to rein in his power would be to bring the City Council into the process of reviewing his appointments.
Gordon likened the situation to that of the U.S. Senate, which can “knock off Supreme Court nominees,” although they don’t get to pick them.
He said that with Healy’s appointments there should be “a real vote — it should not be rubber-stamped.”
Challenger Craig Kelly also wants the council to have the power to oversee appointments.
“That would stop him from cherry picking when picking the people who make the big decisions in the process,” Kelly said. “People like me don’t get appointed to committees because I would disagree with the city manager on most issues.”
Healy stands by his appointments, saying he looks for people with knowledge, intelligence and common sense.
Mayor Michael Sullivan said that with many appointments — such as the Kids Council — the city manager is presented with a list of names to pick from and that with the housing board, the council actually does confirm his appointments.
This is not the case with boards such as zoning, however.
In the last election, there were no vacancies on the City Council and the challengers all lost. There are no vacancies this year, either.
The same incumbents are running, and Winters — who did not want to play Las Vegas handicapper and quote odds on the election — said it is likely the same nine will emerge victorious tomorrow night.