Gunnison, Centerfield councils discuss
benefits of hiring shared city manager
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON— Gunnison City Mayor Lori Nay says she thinks the city could benefit from hiring a city manager.
“If you look at the small cities in the state, and the ones that are doing well over a long period of time, it’s all about having the right city manager,” Nay says.
In fact, both Gunnison and Centerfield are looking into the benefits of hiring a shared city manager, since their cities are both relatively small in population.
On Wednesday, March 16, Gunnison City Council and Centerfield City Council both had a meeting with a special guest to talk about the benefits of having a city manager.
Santaquin City Manager Ben Reeves is the former president of the Utah City Managers Association. He is also no stranger to Gunnison Valley, having served his LDS mission there.
“He’s familiar with us and has a lot of knowledge about city management,” says Nay. “We invited him here to share his knowledge with us.”
Reeves has spent the last 15 years as city manager of Santaquin, and before that he was city manager of La Verkin.
“The fact of the matter is you already have a city manager,” Reeves says. “Your mayor, council members, public safety and recorder, each one of those components is carrying a little sliver of what a city manager does each day. The bottom line is that is a segregation of duties and a change of responsibilities. In addition, your city manager becomes your city’s champion.”
Reeves says a city manager’s job is also to remove obstacles to progress, and allow the city elected leaders and staff to be as effective as possible. He says a good city manager takes the goals and objectives determined by city leaders and implements them.
“They separate politics from operations, champion projects, generate grant revenues and more,” Reeves says. “These are all things a good city manager does.”
Nay says she thinks bringing in a city manager will lead to some improvements in the way the town runs in general.
“A city manager helps provide continuity as elected leaders change, and consistency over the years when working towards city goals,” Nay says. “It also just means we could be more efficient.”
Reeves showed the group some examples of what a city manager had accomplished for Morgan City, who brought in a city manager 2.5 years ago. Since then, the Morgan City manager has generated 10 times the amount of money from grants he pursued and obtained for the city than his entire salary.
Centerfield City Mayor Tom Sorensen was present at the meeting, and says he didn’t think Centerfield needed a fulltime city manager, but he thought the idea of sharing a city manager with Gunnison might have a lot of merit.
Sorensen told Reeves the opportunity for generating more revenue for the city through grants is a major reason as to why Centerfield City would benefit from a city manager.
“It took me a long time when I started mayor to learn the ropes,” Sorensen says. “It would be so useful if we had someone who really knew that funding side of things. Someone who could show us where to go to fund ball park improvements, or anything else. That would be huge having someone who knew the direction to go for any project we had.”
But transition to having a city manager from not having one can cause some trepidation among the ranks of a city.
“I get that this kind of transition is hard for a city,” Reeves says. “There is a lot of fear. People think, ‘What is my role going to be moving forward? Is this person going to start bossing me around?’ But if you find the right fit for your community, they’re just going to make it easier for everyone to do their job. ”
Nay says she has heard some concern from city staff about the city manager idea, but she says that it would dissipate quickly if they actually went for it.
“If we go through this process, they will see it’s a bonus for them,” she says.
Mayor Nay asked Reeves if he had ever heard of any other cities considering a partnership to co-hire a city manager. The two cities already work together under multiple inter-local agreements, such as the unified Gunnison Valley Police Department, Gunnison Valley Fire Department and the ball fields.
“Sure, but no matter what, the key here is just having the right relationship,” he told her. “It’s no different than sharing a city attorney.”
With so many things shared already between the two cities, over the years there has been talk about the possibility of merging.
“If that did ever happen, it would make us the second biggest city in Sanpete County,” Nay says. “That could really open more doors for us, but for now we are too separate, but in time I think maybe. It depends on how we each grow. It makes sense right now to work together, bring both assets to table, share costs and develop opportunities.”
But Nay says with the current public health crisis, the idea of a city manager isn’t going to gain immediate traction.
“We need to get all this uncertainty out of the way first,” she told the Messenger. “The final decision, of course, will come through the council and mayor, but we want to have a lot of people engaged. We can’t expect to have success with too much opposition.”
Nay says that they will use tried and true methods of advancing the idea to the community, but if it gets the support she hopes it will, she sees good things ahead.
“Yes, there will be a learning curve, but I think this is the way towards our future,” she says.