Mayoral Forum II

The Portage Area Chamber of Commerce and the Portage Daily Register hosted the second Portage mayoral forum on Tuesday, March 22 at City Hall featuring candidates Portage Mayor Bill Tierney and Alderperson Rick Dodd. Thank you to the candidates, Kerry Lechner for serving as moderator, and reporter Lyn Jerde for covering the event. The following is Lyn’s article from the Wednesday, March 23 edition of the Daily Register:   

Just what is, and is not, a mayor? That opening question in Tuesday’s forum — with Portage Mayor Bill Tierney and his challenger, Alderman Rick Dodd, sitting side by side in the Portage Common Council chamber — defined the tone of what is likely the final joint appearance of the candidates before the April 5 election.

About 35 people gathered at the Portage Municipal Building for the forum, which was jointly sponsored by the Portage Area Chamber of Commerce and the Portage Daily Register. Daily Register Editor Kerry Lechner moderated the forum, which was more conversational and less structured than previous debate-style forums.

In addressing that question of the mayor’s role, Dodd used the word “coach” over and over. “The mayor really has very little power,” he said. “What they do have authority to do is coach the people who perform the job, and make sure they understand what their functions really are.”

Tierney said he sees the mayor’s role not as a hands-on, day-to-day administrator of the city’s operations, but as both a visionary for the city’s future and the face of the city. What that means, usually, is spending time — almost any hour of the day, almost any day of the year — promoting a vision for Portage’s future and being the face and voice of that vision. Tierney said he could remember when he made mayoral appearances at 11 different events in one weekend.

“By the 11th,” he said, “it’s like, ‘I can’t eat one more piece of pie.’ But I love being mayor. I’ve been given the moniker of Portage’s biggest cheerleader.”

 Neither Dodd nor Tierney said they envision the Portage mayoral post as a full-time job. But Dodd said if the voters choose him over Tierney, he won’t be working as mayor all the time, but rather all the time that is needed — including evenings, which he said would be devoted to tasks such as reading documents and attending meetings.

“They didn’t elect me not to be here, not to do the coaching that’s required,” he said. As Dodd defines it, “coaching” entails making clear to city staff what the Common Council’s decisions and directions are. “There are times when things get difficult” on the first floor of the Municipal Building, where many key city employees work, Dodd said.

 In situations like that, he said, the mayor’s role is “not really to be a boss and say ‘this is what you’re going to do.’ Coaching is more of getting the consensus that this is the right thing to do.”

Tierney borrowed an analogy from business. The mayor is the city’s chief executive officer, but the city administrator — a post held by Shawn Murphy — is the chief operating officer.

The mayor’s role in relation to the city administrator, then, is to communicate the goals, so that the administrator can in turn communicate them to other city department heads and staff. Also, Tierney said, the mayor and Common Council have a vital role in evaluating the work of the city administrator, a task that he said is shared with Portage citizens, business leaders and others.

“I get a lot of feedback, but I seek it as well,” he said. “I’m certainly not an introvert, but that goes with the territory.” Dodd praised city staff — and mentioned Murphy and Finance Director Jean Mohr by name — as offering vital knowledge to the city’s daily operations.

Murphy, according to Dodd, “really has nine — 10, if you count the mayor — bosses, who are pulling him in different directions … The fact that he is here assures a lot of people, including myself, that continuity is going to continue with the changes in the alder people and the mayor’s position.”

Dodd said he thinks that the city of Portage is like a business, in the sense that its elected leaders need to invest in endeavors like infrastructure improvement and economic development, with an eye toward the best possible return on the investment.

Tierney said he used to believe that the city should be run like a business, but that mindset, he said, has limitations, in that the city can’t just “go under” if its management or investments fail.

And the mayor, too, has limitations, Tierney acknowledged – the main limit being the need to have the Common Council’s buy-in.

“People think that just because the mayor wants something from the other elected officials, it’s going to happen,” he said. “Oftentimes, people just think, a flick of the finger and it will happen.”


Brad Conrad
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