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Commission recommends changes to Watertown city government

Payne Horning
WRVO News File Photo
Watertown City Council

A commission assembled to analyze whether any changes are needed to the structure of Watertown's city government has finished its review.

The push for a commission to review the Watertown City Charter came after the last round of City Council elections when candidates questioned why Watertown needed both a mayor and a city manager. Cities like Oswego have lumped those roles into one full-time mayor position, chosen by the electorate. But in Watertown, the City Council chooses the city manager, which Councilor Ryan Henry-Wilkinson opposes.

"That individual is not directly responsible to the voters," Henry-Wilkinson said. "If we trust the voters to elect us - my colleagues and I - why can’t we trust them to elect the chief executive?"

After a year of study, the commission opted not to merge the two positions. But it did suggest other changes, like automatic annual raises for the city council and mayor rather than allowing those officials to add pay increases in the budget. The commission also recommended the creation of a new deputy city manager position that would also operate as the commissioner of public safety, overseeing the police chief and the director of the fire department.

Henry-Wilkinson says that may be difficult to sell to the public.

"Part of our strategy is trying to remove any positions we think we can get away with without having," He said. "So, adding a position or two might be troubling. I don’t know how voters are going to respond to that."

The commission is holding public meetings on its suggested changes this month. Voters will have the ultimate call on the proposed revisions this November.

Payne Horning is a reporter and producer, primarily focusing on the city of Oswego and Oswego County. He has a passion for covering local politics and how it impacts the lives of everyday citizens. Originally from Iowa, Horning moved to Muncie, Indiana to study journalism, telecommunications and political science at Ball State University. While there, he worked as a reporter and substitute host at Indiana Public Radio. He also covered the 2015 session of the Indiana General Assembly for the statewide Indiana Public Broadcasting network.