Council says ‘not right now’ to DOA; lack of details, recent referendum cited
Final Release: Friday, April 23, 2021, at 7:52 AM
Original Release: Thursday, April 22, 2021, at 8:14 PM
MANDEVILLE — The City Council voted down Mayor Clay Madden’s staff restructuring proposal, killing the idea of a director of administration post — for now — while giving the mayor a promise to work with him moving forward.
Several on the council went as far as to commend the mayor on the progress they’ve seen so far in his administration, promising to reassess the idea of a director-of-administration-type position as well as other potential changes if things continue to improve.
“Things are running so smoothly now at City Hall. Trilby (Lenfant) is doing awesome. Let’s come back in a year and see where we’re at then,” District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire told the mayor during debate.
Longtime former Council Member Trilby Lenfant has been filling the mayor’s executive assistant position on an interim basis, but the mayor previously expressed she has been forced to expand well beyond the traditional role of the executive assistant.
The mayor sealed the fate of his reorganization plan during his opening remarks to the council when, in a prepared statement, he spelled out the only change he would be willing to accept to the ordinance, effectively giving the council no choice but an all or nothing vote.
“The one change I am prepared to make if the council feels it’s necessary is a process that would eliminate the financial commitment for those positions. I would support that,” he read.
Madden highlighted one of his original reasons for proposing the director of administration post: “Passing this ordinance to create the director of administration position would just be formalizing what we’ve already been doing. I believe in what I’m proposing.”
He also said he had spoken with voters during the last two weeks — some were supportive, some expressed questions and concerns, while others had issues that were more “political in nature.”
After the mayor’s remarks, each member of the council took turns explaining what they liked and disliked about the plan.
As an elected representative, my job is to really analyze what’s being proposed and make decisions that are in the best interest of the city… What is it that we’re trying to fix?
— Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman
Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman kicked off the discussion period by expressing frustration at how divided the community had become on the director of administration issue.
“Many of the people I’ve spoken to … are enthusiastically for the proposal, many are adamantly against… And what I found is both sides seem to dismiss each other. That’s troubling to me,” said Zuckerman.
Zuckerman noted that the previous City Council voted to lower the mayor’s salary (while Donald Villere was mayor and before Zuckerman was elected), a change that was later ratified by the voters.
Zuckerman concluded his remarks by saying he could get behind the grants and contracts administrator position. “I would propose we move forward with what we can agree on… we could at least chip away at this … and that we can work together over the rest of your term. I very much enjoy working with you.”
District I Councilwoman Rebecca Bush, a staunch ally of the mayor on this issue, expressed continued support for the plan, reading a letter from one of her constituents into the record, which said in part that Mandeville has added roughly 2,500 residents and its budget has almost doubled in the last 10 years.
“Spending big money and managing large projects requires a more specialized governmental structure than a mayor, council and department heads,” she read.
McGuire indicated she might support such a proposal in the future. “I do feel that if we were to have a director of administration, it would allow you to do the stuff that needs to be done so that Mandeville is not reactive … I’m open to it eventually, but I cannot vote for it right now.”
Like Zuckerman, she cited the referendum last year to reduce the mayor’s salary as one reason for not getting on board yet.
Councilman at Large Rick Danielson told the mayor that when the two first talked about the idea of a restructuring ordinance, he was under the impression it would have more specifics.
“When we first talked, I really felt the plan should provide all of those details… the who, what, when, where, why, and how much. And we never really got that.” He told the mayor he would need to see more details.
Danielson did, however, reassure the mayor that he has the support of the council moving forward. “You have an incredible team. You have five council members that will do anything to work with you and your team.”
He concluded by echoing the positions of Zuckerman and McGuire, that he would be willing to support a contracts and grants manager only. “I do not see the need — right now — for a director of administration position, as it’s been laid out.”
The City Council voted down the ordinance without amendments, 3-1, with only District I Councilwoman Rebecca Bush voting in favor. District II Councilman Skelly Kreller is out on medical leave.
At the end of the night, Madden told the Mandeville Daily, “I respect the council’s decision. My administration will continue to move Mandeville forward with the tools that we have. I am confident we will exceed expectations. “