Lakewood Board Entertains Idea Of New Village Manager Position

Village of Lakewood Mayor Cara Birrittieri and the rest of the board of trustees discussed the possibility of creating a village manager/administrator position for the village. P-J photo by Eric Zavinski

The main order of business Monday evening for the village of Lakewood Board of Trustees was whether or not a new village manager or administrator position would be instated in the future. While further discussion and a vote were tabled until later meetings, all five trustee members and community residents made valid points regarding the utility of such a position.

Lakewood Mayor Cara Birrittieri has been fulfilling her duties, in what she says is a full-time workload that is treated as part-time. The finance committee has looked into the possibility of a village manager or administrator handling day-to-day operations in place of the mayor for about one year and recommended thoughtful consideration of such a position at Monday’s meeting.

Discussion began after the item on the agenda was moved from old business to new business as the possible position had never been discussed by the board at large before. The position would theoretically streamline the village’s inner workings and provide more continuity than the elected members of the board can provide in their four-year terms.

Trustee Doug Schutte and his finance committee found that approximately 60 percent of municipalities in New York state have gone the route of hiring a village manager or administrator, which have helped streamline government mechanics in nearby and similarly-sized communities.

“Running a municipality is just not a part-time job at this point,” Schutte said.

A village manager would be in charge of overseeing committees and daily operations of the community. It would be a hired position, so those with specific skill sets and training would be vetted for such a position.

“It seems like it’s becoming a trend,” said Schutte of the position.

Trustee Ted McCague noted that he hopes the village will operate with more efficiency in the future with such a position intact.

“The job is getting bigger and bigger and more and more complicated,” said McCague of the need for such a position. “We are concerned that if we don’t position ourselves properly for the future that it’s going to overtake us.”

McCague is also concerned about accountability and wants someone who would stay in the position for a long period of time to be responsible for the village.

“I think this is a way to move the village forward in the future,” McCague said.

The board of trustees mostly agreed that a change going forward would be in the village’s best interests; however, the semantics of what a manager does versus what an administrator does caused some debate. While Birrittieri saw little difference, Trustee Ellen Barnes suggested that a village administrator position be created over a manager position so that the mayor would still be considered the “chief executive officer” of the board. The argument was that having a manager makes the mayor position weak.

Trustee Randy Holcomb went further in suggesting that the clerk position could be combined with the administrator position. He sees no problem with the current system sans manager or administrator, but if one were to be added, he would like to see an administrator only.

Some scrutiny was turned to Birrittieri as a member of the audience heckled her when she began to speak. Birrittieri got out in front of one issue: saying that she was allowing everyone to speak freely on the matter.

“I was a new mayor and had a huge learning curve,” Birrittieri said.

Birrittieri said she does not want to leverage her responsibilities onto a new village employee but would like to see paperwork and other duties spread out. She said she has seen the village manager position work well in other areas.

McCague reiterated that looking into the possible position was “about structure” and analyzing internally to see what would be best for the operations of the village.

“It may be money very well spent,” McCague said when a member of the audience brought up taxpayer dollars that would pay for the salary included with the position.

Someone brought up the idea of expanding the board of trustees past five members instead. It was also noted during the meeting that a village manager or administrator position could be a public office, but that would ruin the continuity aspect of the position that was desired by some members of the board.

The idea of such a position will again be discussed at the June 25 meeting at 6:30 p.m.