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City manager could benefit Leesburg

Editorial

The Leesburg City Council is considering hiring a full-time city manager to handle the day-to-day operations of the city government.

Consideration of hiring a chief administrator comes after the Georgia Municipal Association completed a study of city government operations. The study uncovered several examples of issues that need more attention than they are currently getting.

Those doing the study were not critical of existing Mayor Jim Quinn or City Clerk Casey Moore, who handle much of the city's administrative load currently. Quinn and Moore are competent, caring officials, but both have other jobs.

Quinn operates a weekly newspaper in Leesburg which is more than a full-time job. Moore is the city's certified clerk, which, alone, carries full-time responsibilities.

City Council members also serve as heads of the various city committees, and they share some of the administrative responsibilities. That system works to some degree, but it has its weaknesses.

City employees occasionally don't know where to take particular issues — to Quinn, Moore or the committee chairperson. There is no one person designated to handle all administrative matters.

Leesburg's current system also creates somewhat of a communication gap in which council members have varied degrees of awareness of what is going on in each department. One advantage of having a city manager on staff is that he or she could uniformly keep council members up to date on city matters.

As government regulations become more and more complex, it's unfair to expect community members on the council to stay current. That's part of the duties of a city manager. Not following all the requirements could result in legal or libel issues.

The city of Leesburg has several ongoing and upcoming projects that might benefit from having full-time oversight. Improvements in the city's infrastructure are needed. The city needs to codify its ordinances. A wage and salary program has been suggested. A new public works building is being planned, and the city wants to renovate the former railroad depot into a welcome center and community meeting space.

It likely would take a salary of about $50,000 to attract the kind of talent that Leesburg would require. That's a significant amount for a small city, but having someone operate the city efficiently can result in substantial cost savings. Those savings could offset some of the new labor expense.

The city manager concept can work in Leesburg. To be successful, the city would need to attract the right person for the job and the community.

And, just as importantly, the City Council would need to step back and allow the manager to handle all the city's issues and its employees. Key will be the council's willingness to become like a board of directors that only sets policy and lets the city manager be a manager.