Could A City Manager Type Of Government Work In Jonesboro?

Hot Springs, AR -- Bath houses, horse races, and historic Central Avenue, Hot Springs, deemed the Spa City, is often referred to as one of Arkansas' crown jewels.

There's another characteristic setting Hot Springs apart from other Arkansas cities.

Kent Myers is the city manager in Hot Springs.

Myers has been the city manager in Hot Springs for more than 12 years.

Hired by the board of directors, as city manager, Myers oversees the day to day operations of each department within the city.

"The board still sets policies, they make policy decisions, they meet twice a month, they approve the budget, they adopt ordinances, resolutions, and they approve zoning changes. The role of the city manager is to implement the policy decisions," said Myers.

Hot Springs still has an elected mayor whose position is mainly a ceremonial post.

The board of directors is comparable to the city council, but in a city manager form of government the mayor and board member positions are strictly volunteer.

Mike Bush is the mayor of Hot Springs.

"You've got people who are on the boards and on the commissions who are involved in the activities of the city.  They're not here for some meager salary," said Bush.

Hot Springs is divided into 6 districts and each district has one director.

Similar to council members in Jonesboro, the directors have to live in the district they represent.

Unlike Jonesboro though, the directors are not voted on city wide, they are only voted on by the people living in their district.

"That creates a lot of diversity on our board. We have one minority on our board, we have two women, we have all age groups. It's a pretty diverse group of board of directors, but it's very representative of our community as far as the composition," said Myers.

The city of Hot Springs made the transition to a city manager form of government in the late eighties.

Peggy Maruthur lived in Hot Springs during the change.

Now, she serves as the director for district one.

"I really feel like there was a transition in the city.  What was described as the county was country and it was becoming suburban-like.  They felt like they needed a professional form of government," said Maruthur.

Maruthur says before the city manager form of government, elections were won by candidates with the most friends or by who had the most property.  There's another, what most consider to be an attribute, associated with having a city manager form of government.

"It takes the politics out of it," said Bush.

"The hope is that it will take politics out of the government," said Maruthur.

"That keeps the politics out. Here are the regulations and you make sure everybody adheres to that," said Myers.

Kent Myers says the foundation of the city manager form of government is built on open communication, trust, and letting the city manager do his or her job.

"The buck stops here. I am responsible for handling the budget and carrying out policy decisions of the city," said Myers.

"If it doesn't go right, I can assure you he knows about it," said Mike Bush.

While the mayor's seat is more of a ceremonial position, the mayor and board of directors are still the decision makers governing the day to day lives of Hot Springs residents.

"When they went to the city manager form of government it did seem to, in the minds of the people, clean up things.....but again, it all depends on who you have in the seat," said Maruthur.

Of course, no one system works flawlessly everywhere..... but Myers does encourage that growing cities, at the very least, explore the possibility of a city manager form of government.