By Terry Milam
City Manager and Chief of Police, Saint John, Missouri
maller cities are constantly being challenged by fiscal setbacks, such as the loss of sales tax revenue, losses of population that affect several revenue streams, reductions in grant funding, unfunded state and federal mandates, and service cutbacks from local utility districts that must then be assumed by the municipality. Doing more with less has become a reality in smaller communities around the country.
In Missouri, several smaller cities have eliminated the city manager or city administrator position by having a city program administrator double-up and perform two functions for the city. This is not an attempt to eliminate the profession of the city manager, but it is a planning strategy to deal with an economic challenge.
I have been both police chief and city manager for the city of Saint John for more than 15 years. This has worked well for a small city of 7,000 residents and 43 full-time employees. Nevertheless, there are some challenges:
• Time: There is not enough time in the day for one person to handle the demands of both positions. For this management model to work, one must make a commitment to do whatever it takes to get the job done. That some times means working at one’s desk or on one’s laptop at home. Prioritizing meetings and tasks can be difficult at times but it is essential.
• Delegation: The police chief who is also city manager cannot do everything along. It is essential to provide direction and let department heads do their jobs.
• Fairness: Every city department has budgetary needs and constraints. It is essential to work with all departments equally.
• Communication: Value department heads for guidance and their professional opinion. They have a lot to teach a police chief about streets, parks, finance matters, and so on. Communicating with elected officials is extremely important.
• Perception: Residents’ perception of how their city is run is especially important to someone who is both police chief and city manager. For someone this position to be successful, he or she needs to get involved in the Chamber of Commerce, a service club like Rotary or Lions, and neighborhood organizations. Being visible and present is of paramount importance, as is reminding them one is not receiving two salaries.
This dual management concept may not work for a larger city or police agency, but the position is not unlike that of a director of public safety who coordinates services of several emergency response departments. The difference between that and the dual management of the city and the police department is that the latter coordinates the day-to-day operations of several city service departments.
The money saved by this type of governance structure in Saint John made it possible for the city to provide additional services and balance the budget. It’s an option for cities to consider as financial challenges mount.