Gunnison continues to consider form of government that
has city manager
By Robert Stevens
GUNNISON—Gunnison City is still considering a switch to a style of municipal government that employs a city manager.
During a special work meeting of the city council held on Wednesday, Jan. 20, city leaders met with Santaquin City Manager Ben Reeves to talk about the potential merits of hiring a city manager. It was the second time Reeves had come and spoken with the council about the idea of a using a city manager in Gunnison, a town he once served an LDS mission in.
“The role of the city manager is to remove the obstacles from the road and pave the road,” Reeves told the council and mayor. “You set the course; you are the driver, if you will. It really helps to have that focal point with the community to implement the ideas the city wants.”
Currently, the city uses a city council style of government, where municipal governing duties are split between council members. With a city manager style of government, the majority of those duties would be part of a paid city manager’s full-time job. A city manager also typically stays employed across multiple sets of elected leadership, which can encourage long-term consistency in the direction of a town’s development.
Gunnison City Mayor Lori Nay, who has expressed support for hiring a city manager in the past, told Reeves she sees the city as a multi-million dollar “business” with public good in mind, and that a city manager would essentially be its chief operating officer (COO).
“We are not expanding on our opportunities because we don’t have a COO in place,”
Nay said at the Jan. 20 meeting. “We have a great group of people here with great ideas, we just don’t have enough legs to make it all happen. I am hoping a city manager can help us get there.”
Reeves told the mayor and council that an effective city manager can “make your good people even better.” He also said a fulltime city manager can be used to obtain more grants and funding for community projects. According to Reeves, in 2020, Santaquin secured approximately $9 million in funding thanks to grants he applied for.
When considering hiring a city manager, Reeves says there are some considerations that need to be made, and some challenges in the process. A city manager needs to be a good fit to get the best return on investment for the city.
“A good city manager is bound by a code of ethics,” he said. “A good city manager is going to fit your culture, and you’re going to want to choose them for that. If you are hiring, consider inviting or talking to other city managers that are not applicants. City managers are a pretty tight group, there are about 100 of us in the state.”
There are several options when hiring a city manager, says Reeves. The first is a city manager fresh out of college. This option is usually cheaper, but the applicants have less experience. The next is an assistant city manager currently working at another city who wants to move up in their career. A third option Reeves says has a lot of benefits is looking for a transplant city manager who has interest in moving to Utah in the first place. The transplant will often accept a smaller salary because they are relocating someplace they want to go.
“We want the kind that has lots of experience and doesn’t want a lot of money,” joked Councilman Sean Crane.
Reeves says the salary of city managers can vary, but even for small towns a good city manager can get anywhere from $65,000-$120,000 a year. City managers of large cities can have salaries approaching or exceeding $200,000.
“It can be hard to digest for your community that you’re going to pay someone as much as $100K or more to come in and run the city,” Reeves told the council. “Change is hard, but it’s always because there is a greater plateau ahead.”
When Reeves visited to talk about city managers previously, Gunnison leaders had been considering the possibility of arranging a shared city manager with Centerfield; but in the Jan. 20 meeting, Nay said they had put more thought into that idea, and although Centerfield City might still be interested in the idea, it might be a bad choice in the long run.
“There can be issues with having a shared city manager for two cities,” Reeves said. “I see one of two things happening. Either you merge slowly and come together, or the work is going to grow to the point where one community isn’t being served well and will want their own manager. There are going to be things you don’t agree on between communities, and the issue becomes ‘where do the manager’s loyalties lie?”
Nay said, “I am not so sure we want to go that route the more I think about it.”
The mayor and council thanked Reeves for coming, and Nay said they needed to think about how they would proceed. She said Gunnison City once had a city manager, and so she thought they could transition to having one again without too many challenges if they decided to.
“We only have about 1800 residents in Gunnison, but we’re the central hub for five communities,” Nay said. “We have to be smart because of that. What we do and do well will benefit them all.”