On Tuesday, the Columbia City Council voted to leave off the April 6 ballot a proposed city charter amendment that would have required the council to approve the hiring or firing of department heads, decisions currently made solely by the city manager.
The amendment would have been similar to hearings the U.S. Senate holds to confirm the nominations of federal department heads and Supreme Court justices.
When Third Ward Councilman Karl Skala proposed the amendment, he said he had “no intention of putting it on the April ballot." On Tuesday, he actually moved to withdraw the amendment after hearing thoughts from a few people at the meeting. Skala again said he only wanted to spark discussion with his proposal.
Skala's proposal, though, had the backing of First Ward Councilman Paul Sturtz. Sturtz argued that voters — who select council members — should have more representation in the process of appointing or dismissing department heads. He also said without the chance to confirm a decision, the council’s only way to make its voice heard would be to fire a city manager it thought had made poor decisions.
Fourth Ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Jerry Wade opposed the change because potential candidates for open positions and current department heads would be forced to weigh loyalties of council members.
"This will have the council mucking around where we don't need to be," he said.
City Manager Bill Watkins said he opposes council involvement because of the delicate nature of firing a department head. Second Ward Councilman Jason Thornhill also opposed the amendment, saying that, as a councilman, he doesn't have enough information to evaluate department heads.
Even though the amendment won't be on the April 6 ballot, should City Council members have more say in the hiring and firing of department heads?