Should Dayton have a full-time mayor? Charter committee exploring

Dayton’s mayor has long been considered a part-time position, but some think it should be a full-time job with better pay to meet community expectations and attract the best and brightest candidates.

Members of Dayton’s charter review committee are debating a charter change proposal to officially make the mayor full-time. Voters would have to approve modifying the charter.

“The world has changed, expectations of the community have changed, I would argue, and people want to see our elected officials more involved,” said Mohamed Al-Hamdani, a charter review committee member.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and some former office holders have treated the office like a full-time job.

Whaley said she’s glad the charter review committee is looking at this issue in a year when the city will elect a new mayor, since she is not running again.

“I feel like the citizens of Dayton demand a full-time mayor,” she said. “I think it needs full-time work.”

But some former leaders and other community members don’t think a charter change is a good idea.

“Making the Dayton job full-time would not make it more professional,” said Paul Leonard, Dayton’s mayor from 1982 to 1987. “It would only invite more politics into City Hall.”

ExploreDayton mayor history

Since 1969, Dayton’s mayor has been elected separately from the Dayton City Commission in municipal elections, and the mayor is considered the official head of the city for ceremonial purposes and the civil process, according to the city’s charter.

Dayton is one of about 112 cities that use the council-manager form of local government, under which the city manager oversees day-to-day city operations while elected leaders are “outward facing” and responsible for making policy, aligning community groups, managing state and federal relationships and other responsibilities, said Ariel Walker, director of the office of the city commissioner.

Three of Dayton’s four city commissioners have other jobs, and one is retired. Mayor Whaley, who does not have a second occupation, is finishing her second term in office and will not run for reelection this fall.

Whaley said she serves as Dayton’s mayor every day, and there’s some weeks when her mayor duties take up 60 to 70 hours of her time.

“The city requires political leadership,” she said. “The manager is super busy managing an organization of 1,800 people, and the political leadership of this job to advocate on the behalf of the community takes a lot of time.”

Dayton’s mayor serves four year terms and currently is paid $56,500 annually and also receives health care and retirement benefits, city staff said.

City commissioners earn about $47,800 annually, not including benefits.

Officials say the charter doesn’t explicitly state that the mayor’s position is part-time, but it’s widely been considered that.

There is no interest in changing Dayton’s form of government or the city’s operations ― the question is whether the mayor should be recognized explicitly as a full-time role in the charter, city officials said.

“In having this conversation today, and thinking about what the community’s expectations are, do we need, do we want, do we deserve a full-time mayor?” said Barbara Doseck, Dayton’s law director, during a Monday meeting.

The charter committee also is debating the structure and model of the compensation board, which makes recommendations about the mayor’s and commissioners’ pay.

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Dayton’s mayor is expected to answer for pretty much everything the city does, which is understandable since residents elect the mayor and not the city manager, said Al-Hamdani.

The mayor is the face of the city, both locally and nationally, and community members want to see and hear from the mayor frequently, basically requiring full-time dedication, Al-Hamdani said.

Al-Hamdani said he thinks the mayor’s pay is too low to be competitive to attract many talented candidates, like younger residents, especially if they have children or significant student debt.

“If you are paying on a part-time position but they are expected to work a full-time job ― for me personally, you are limiting who you are going to (be able) to recruit to run for mayor in the future,” Al-Hamdani said.

The mayor’s salary has increased little in the last century, said committee member Stanley Earley, noting that Dayton’s mayor was paid $1,800 in 1913, which when adjusted for inflation would be more than $47,000 today.

Earley said he wants to find out how many cities with 100,000 to 500,000 residents have full-time mayors. He said that could help inform the committee’s decision about whether to propose a charter modification.

Kery Gray, a committee member and former city commission director, said he thinks the mayor’s pay is one of the most important considerations.

“If we pay $40,000 or $50,000, that is going to mean that some young people who are raising families will say, ‘I can’t give up my lawyer job or my nonprofit administration job or my police officer job for a position that pays less,’” he said.

Leonard, Dayton’s mayor in the 1980s, said the job requires far more work than just presiding over meetings, and he treated the job as a full-time commitment.

However, he said Dayton’s system of government has worked well for a long time and he does not think making the mayor full-time is wise.

“I’ve always believed that if a leader needs to change the form of government to exercise leadership, he or she is not much of a leader,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, who served as the city’s mayor from 1994 to 2001, said he believes a full-time mayor would conflict with the city manager form of government.

He said the city manager would become “captive” to the voice of the mayor instead of being responsive to the whole city commission.

“In addition, asking people to leave their profession to be mayor limits the number of people who might be willing to serve,” he said.

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