Editorial by the Plain Talk The chain of command.

Who knows when this important management style was adopted?

It�s still around because it works.

The military uses it. Major corporations and small businesses utilize it, too. It can be found in board rooms and on Main Street, in the Pentagon, in Congress, in churches and in schools.

It�s probably used in a lot of households, too, with parents (the bosses) setting certain ground rules for their children (their subordinates) � ranging from bedtime for youngsters to who gets the car keys for teenagers.

This chain of command naturally won�t guarantee a successful family or business or school. There�s a good chance, however, that a �dysfunctional� family or business or school is one that isn�t managed well.

It has no clear chain of command.

That�s why we�re strongly disappointed that District 17 Sen. Joe Reedy of Vermillion has introduced SB 177.

If approved, this bill could significantly weaken the chain of command structure that is at the heart of the city manager form of government. Three communities in South Dakota operate their municipalities with this governing style � Vermillion, Brookings and Yankton.

Reedy, in his opening remarks to the Senate Local Government Committee Jan. 28, said Vermillion�s mayor and city council members �are somewhat deprived of some authority, some things that I think that they should be allowed to do.�

That�s news to the Vermillion City Council. The first they learned about Reedy�s bill was at their Monday night meeting at city hall � nearly a week after the District 17 senator introduced the legislation. He apparently never discussed the issue with our aldermen or city manager.

He and other committee members who support the bill more or less painted a grim picture. They claim that city employees and department heads, under the city management form of government, can�t talk to their elected officials. Why, elected officials can�t even go to a municipal Christmas party, said Sen. Garry Moore, Yankton, because of fear of reprisal that may be experienced by city workers.

Reedy told the committee of an experience a former Vermillion mayor had with a former city manager. �The city manager said if there are any messages or anything you want to do with city employees, let me know and I�ll be glad to visit with them for you.�

The newly elected mayor indicated he would deal with city employees himself. �No,� Reedy said, quoting the city manager�s response, �I could have you arrested if you do.�

By now you�re probably thinking, �Wow, do we have a problem!� You�re right. Neither Reedy nor Moore have their facts straight.

Long ago, we heard the story concerning the former city manager. We checked to see if it was factual, and determined it was actually a big misunderstanding.

City aldermen and city employees, you see, have always (and we note that with emphasis) had the ability to communicate under the city manager form of government.

�It is not the case that the city council is not allowed to speak to the employees,� said Yvonne Taylor of the South Dakota Municipal League. �But they need to run things through the manager, and the reason for that is, the manager is hired by the city council and reports to the city council.�

SB 177 states, in part, �the governing body may by ordinance set forth the conditions and situations in which the governing body and its members may establish verbal or written contact with the administrative service, which may include contact for purposes of inquiry of discussion or official business of the municipality…�

In other words, SB 177 allows city councils an opportunity to weaken the chain of command between a city manager and municipal employees.

SB 177 maintains a section of the current S.D. codified law dealing with the city manager form of government which states that it is a Class 2 misdemeanor for any member of the governing body to give orders to any subordinate of the manager. USD�s famed Dr. William Farber wrote the state law that established the city manager option for South Dakota municipalities. In a letter to Speaker of the House Matt Michels, he notes that �Interference by council members into the day-to-day city operations by contacting city staff members in either written or verbal form disrupts the operations and undercuts the chain of command since staff is unsure of their allegiances.�

More importantly, the bill would allow the city council to alter Vermillion�s form of government without the public�s say. Vermillion citizens ratified the city manager form of government through a public referendum in 1968.

This bad piece of legislation received approval by the Senate Local Government Committee, largely because Reedy has misled his fellow legislators.

We hope a House committee scheduled to meet Feb. 5 has reversed the damage Reedy caused, and killed the bill.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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