Whether the city of Vandalia should switch the city treasurer from an elected position to an appointed one can be debated. One factor fueling that debate was the pace at which that action was taken.
It was less than a month ago that the Vandalia City Council’s personnel, finance and insurance committee held its first meeting about possible pay increases for the city officials to be elected next spring – mayor, city clerk, city treasurer and four aldermen.
It was at that June 26 meeting that Alderman Jerry Swarm said that he was still leaning toward a referendum on making the switch in the city treasurer position.
It’s the word still that causes one to wonder when that possibility was initially discussed.
In a letter dated June 27, City Attorney Jack Johnston gave legal advice on making changes to the office of treasurer, noting that the mayor had been in contact with the Illinois Municipal League “and perhaps also with the office of the county clerk concerning a referendum on the matter.
“I have no understanding as to whether the idea of the referendum was because it was a necessary vehicle to accomplish abolition of the office, or because it would be an appropriate way to obtain advice of the city electorate,” that letter states.
As aldermen discussed the possibility of the switch at that June 26 meeting, many said they would like to get considerable public input on the idea. Some even talked of eliciting comments from the public by participating in a local talk show.
Those at the meeting talked about discussing the salaries with the full council at its next meeting, on July 2. The discussion was tabled, however, because the item was not put on the meeting agenda. It was in preparation of that July 2 meeting that aldermen received Johnston’s letter on treasurer position.
Then, on Monday night, an ordinance on making the switch was presented for a council vote, prior to any discussion by the full council.
At some point, the decision was made that the council would vote on the issue, as opposed to holding a referendum.
The council did discuss at its June 18 meeting the possibility of lowering the treasurer’s salary, with some aldermen saying they didn’t feel that it is right that the treasurer’s salary is higher than the mayor’s. But nothing about a referendum or a switch in the way the treasurer is seated was discussed.
Based on past practices of the city, would it be appropriate – if the council did, indeed, want citizens’ input and time to consider the matter – to present the ordinance for discussion and then vote on it at a future meeting?
Swarm said that he had heard about other communities making the same kind of decision. Why not do a survey of other communities, to see why and how it was accomplished, the same way the city did when the leaf-burning issue was discussed several month ago.
We also have to wonder whether, if the current treasurer, Marjorie Blythe, expressed her opposition to the action, would any aldermen have said why they were in favor of the action?
The fact that this matter seemed to be pushed through quickly causes one to wonder what the hurry was, especially in light of comments by aldermen at the June 26 meeting about taking some time to make a decision after getting residents’ input.
This may be the right fiscal decision for the city, if it can schedule the treasurer’s work without paying considerable overtime or paying one or more new part-time employees.
But the fact that this was acted on so quickly after discussions began, after one public meeting on the issue, one is left to wonder if, and how, this was all studied and how all city officials, except the current treasurer, came to believe this was the right decision.