Davison departure is system at work

The nature of the Steubenville City Charter form of government in action during the past 29 years has been all about service to the public, punctuated by the ending of the relationship between any given City Council and a given manager.

The original idea was to obtain professional management and get the operation of the city’s operations out of the strict control of politicians, political allies or outright cronies. In operation, it actually has worked, though nearly three decades of time passing can dim memories, and those on the scene only after the government changed from a strong mayoral form would not recognize how far the city actually has come.

There was a time when an entrenched mayor in charge could continue to wield his personal viewpoint and controls through those political allies he installed in office, with power continuing for as long as the voters could be made to believe in the mayor’s personality.

The manager government isn’t about personalities or long-term power.

Yes, the system occasionally hits bumps in the road, but it does work and it does provide a stable government, despite the changing of the guard in the manager’s office.

The latest manager to depart the executive suite in the Municipal Building is Cathy Davison, who had a mostly typical 38-month relationship with the city and its legislators if the template of prior administrations is any indication.

Indeed, only in the case of the second term of Bruce Williams did the ending of the paid executive’s tenure follow anything but a typical pattern.

The pattern usually is this:

A manager is hired amid high hopes for change, budgeting skills, public relations and an improvement of morale, employment conditions and the delivery of service to taxpayers.

A couple of years into the relationship, a tough decision has to be made. As the money becomes tighter, those hard decisions hit with greater impact. The council either defers the decision to the manager and with some of council second guessing the manager, or the council chooses to let the manager’s decision stand and then the relationship sours when citizens disagree with the decision. Either way, the relationship begins to sour. The manager eventually finds himself or herself generally at odds with a factionalized council, and the relationship becomes so ineffective that the citizens are best served by the relationship ending.

This is not a reflection on any of the six people who met the charter’s qualifications and were hired by council. It is just a point of how the system has worked historically.

And that is not much different than what happens between a strong mayor and the residents. Even mayors can come and go every four years if they fall out of favor with residents, despite the charter growing out of an entrenched-mayor situation in the 1970s and early 1980s.

Steubenville has a mayor who has stayed in favor for terms as mayor and a councilman dating back longer than the charter has been in effect. Domenick Mucci again will provide leadership and be the manager during a transition between managers, as he has been three other times. He has been an adequate caretaker for these interim periods, and, because of the charter, his long tenure as mayor is not a power issue. It actually provides institutional memory that can be valuable.

It is easy to be divided by personalities when the manager-council relationship sours. But it is the system at work that allows the city to seek a new professional for another fresh look at governance and management.