Parkersburg officials: City manager idea on hold

PARKERSBURG – A switch from a strong mayor to a city manager form of government for Parkersburg may be a dead issue, at least for now.

Mayor Bob Newell, who suggested the switch in January in an address to the Parkersburg Rotary Club, said he has no plans to push for the change.

“I really haven’t had any plans to bring it up,” he said. “It is something that city council could look at in the next few years, but it’s nothing I’m going to push for.”

Newell said he believes it is up to Parkersburg City Council whether the idea is pursued.

Council President Jim Reed also said he has no intention of bringing the topic before council.

“I don’t know that it is a discussion item at this point,” he said. “It hasn’t been anything that anyone has brought to my attention that they would like to discuss it.”

Reed said while he would not oppose looking into a move from the strong mayor form of government to the council-manager form, he already could see issues with the change.

“The problem I have with the city manager form of government is the people, the voters, lose control over the guy in charge,” he said. “The voters now have the ability to fire or vote out of office the mayor and council. My concern is I think the mayor and council need to answer to the public, and I don’t know that a city manager would do that.”

But Reed said he could see positives as well.

“I know city managers are often very knowledgeable about the operation of a city,” he said. “I know other cities have used this form of government and it has worked very well for them.”

Newell said any such change would require buy-in from council and a willingness to work under the new system. If the city manager felt threatened by council, or council found itself micromanaging the city, the position would not work.

“Honestly, I’ve left a few council meetings lately thinking it wouldn’t be such a good idea” to have a city manager, Newell said. “If the city manager was easily replaced, it wouldn’t be a good system. It would have to be a longer-term contract with removal for cause only. I think in those situations the city manager are a stronger form of management because they aren’t always worried about their job.”

Newell laughed at suggestions he wanted the city manager position created so he could apply for the job.

“Yeah, I’ve heard that mentioned,” he said. “I’ve made my intentions for the future very clear. I’m honored to have a third term (as mayor), but this is it for me.”

Newell also said the purpose of the city manager is to take certain management responsibilities off the shoulders of the mayor.

“These are things I don’t like doing as part of my job now,” he said.

Unless there is a sudden swell of interest among council members, however, the topic likely is dead.

“Certainly I am open to debate, and down the road it may be something that needs to be debated,” Reed said, but for now, “I don’t see it coming to the table.”