District 1’s Hente elected 1st City Council president

       The new position of City Council president - an offshoot of the charter change that created the “strong mayor” - has fallen to District 1 representative Scott Hente.

Scott Hente

       Elected to the post for two years by an April vote of council, he sought the position, he said in a recent interview. “I've had eight years of experience [on council since 2003]. If I didn't try to use it for the good of the community, I wouldn't be fulfilling my civic responsibility.”
       The honor does not mean a pay hike. He still makes the same $6,250 a year as the other council members (and the mayor, formerly). But the council president's duties and powers set him somewhat above his colleagues. (New Mayor Steve Bach, by contrast, takes over most of what used to be the city manager's duties and earns $96,000 a year.)
       According to Hente, “I'm responsible for all the things at meetings that the mayor was before.” This also applies to the times council meets as the Utilities Board, he noted, in which he serves as board chairman while the mayor has no formal role under the new charter.
       Examples of other council president powers/duties follow (quotes are taken from the “Council Rules of Procedure,” adopted by councilmembers in April and based on last fall's voter-approved charter changes).
       The council president:
  • Will become the acting mayor if the mayor is sidelined “for more than a temporary or short-term absence,” and will remain in that post until a new mayor is elected.
  • Works with the mayor and city clerk to prepare council meeting agendas. Unlike other council members, he can also add late items to a formal meeting agenda, as long as he notifies them he's done so.
  • Can call special meetings on his own (otherwise, a request is needed from three council members).
  • Decides on all questions of order or matters of procedure, unless other council members vote against his decision.
  • Has the authority to limit council debate or the extent of citizen discussion on an issue.
  • May appoint (as well as terminate) special boards, committees or commissions, including the assignment of other councilmembers to them.
           In pursuing the slot, Hente admitted that he had to decide how much he liked his free time. As the councilmember for the district covering the northwestern part of the Westside, he already gets more constituent calls than his at-large counterparts (because they don't represent specific parts of town). When he started on council, working through a “learning curve,” he averaged about 35 hours a week, he recalled. In recent years, he had found ways to reduce that down to 20 to 25 hours. Now, as council president, “I'm back up over 40,” he said.
           During his eight years on council, he's that role while remaining part of the two-man leadership in a construction company (Robert Scott General Contractors). “Fortunately, I have a business partner (Bob Ormston) who says his commitment to public service is letting me do it,” Hente laughed. “In eight years, he's never complained once about doing extra because of my city work.”
           Although many of the council president's powers and duties are spelled out with the new charter, the entire situation vis a vis council and the “strong mayor” is not clear. Hente predicted that “a lot of things are going to be worked out over time. That's a lot of what we [he and Bach] talked about” in a recent, first-time-in-their-new-jobs discussion.
           One aspect that's puzzling Hente - and which he asked Bach to think about - is a chain-of-command conundrum. “In the old days, there was a distinct line from council to city manager to staff. Now we don't have that direct line. The mayor has the staff working for him; we don't. How do I task someone who isn't working for me?”
           Jan Martin, a Westsider who was re-elected at-large in the April election - getting more votes than any other at-large councilmember for the second time in a row - is the new president pro-tem (and Utilities Board vice-chair). As such, she has no more duties/powers than other councilmembers, except that the charter formally tasks her to take over those of the president anytime he can't.
           That was the position she wanted, she said, and “I supported Scott for president.”
           She added that she's ready to step into the president's shoes anytime it's necessary. In the meantime, “I think we'll find that there are lots of groups in town that would like to have us [mayor, president and/or president pro-tem] as speakers at different events. I think this is a role where we can share some of those responsibilities.”

    Westside Pioneer article