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Keokuk Changes Mayor and City Council Responsibilities

Daily Gate City
The hiring of City Administrator Aaron Burnett, seated to the left of Mayor Tom Marion, is prompting Keokuk to take a closer look at the structure of city government.

The hiring of Aaron Burnett as Keokuk's new city administrator marked a significant change in the structure of city government, since that job had been vacant for nearly a decade. Now, city leaders are trying to make sure its rules and regulations match up with the hiring.

"Our current code is a little antiquated and has very little in it about what the mayor's duties are, what the city council's duties are and what the city administrator does," said Mayor Tom Marion.

  Because of that, the city council is considering changes to more than a half dozen sections of city code. They cover everything including who the city administrator reports to, who handles hiring and firing and the specific positions that can be filled by appointment from the mayor or city council.

The change that is getting the most attention, though has to do with the mayor's salary and benefits.

Keokuk has been operating for decades with what is considered a "strong mayor" or in other words, a full-time mayor. The mayor's current salary is about $62,000 plus benefits.

Talk of changing the position to part-time picked up steam during the hiring of a city administrator, because the money saved could help pay for that position. Now that Aaron Burnett is in place as city administrator, the council is making the job reduction for the mayor official.

The proposed language states:

"Beginning January 1, 2016, the position of Mayor in the city shall be considered a part-time position. Until January 1, 2016, the Mayor shall be a fulltime position. The mayor is expected to attend to city business on a regular schedule of no less than 20 hours a week in addition to Council meetings, during daily normal city business hours pursuant to the Mayor's job description."

Mayor Tom Marion said the reduced workload will allow him to focus less on day-to-day activities and more on the big picture.

“I see my duties as economic development, as being the face of the city, as being involved in as many meetings as I can, and hoping to give some direction to the city administrator until he really gets his feet wet here," said Marion.

The new city code also clarifies the mayor's benefits:

"He shall be entitled to three weeks' vacation per calendar year, but shall take no more than two calendar weeks, or 15 days, at any one time. His salary shall be increased by the same percentage as other officers of the city."

Nowhere in the proposed changes, though, will you find anything regarding the actual salary of the mayor.

The city council planned to reduce the salary by half for the part-time position, but it missed the deadline to get it done prior to the November city election. So, Keokuk's part-time mayor would still make the  full-time salary amount of $62,000.

Marion said that was an oversight on his part, which he plans to correct. "I will repay the city for ½ of the salary and ½ of the IPERS, which is the retirement system," said Marion. "So the city won't lose a cent."

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.