LAWRENCE: Council rejects one-year mayor’s term

A proposed ordinance that would restore the practice of choosing a mayor every year — instead of every two years — was beaten back before it even got out of the starting gate at Township Council’s De

By Lea Kahn, Staff Writer
   A proposed ordinance that would restore the practice of choosing a mayor every year — instead of every two years — was beaten back before it even got out of the starting gate at Township Council’s Dec. 3 meeting.
   The ordinance gained only two yes votes — one vote short of the three yes votes needed for its introduction.
   The yes voters were cast by Councilmen David Maffei and Michael Powers, and the no votes came from Mayor Jim Kownacki, Councilman Stephen Brame and Councilwoman Cathleen Lewis.
   Township Council chooses one of its five members to serve in the largely ceremonial post of mayor. But until an ordinance was approved in 2011 that set the mayor’s term for two years, the council traditionally selected a mayor every year at its annual reorganization meeting.
   Former Township Councilman Bob Bostock suggested a two-year term because one year does not allow enough time to develop a relationship and rapport with elected officials and others at the municipal, county and state level.
   Township Council voted 4-1 to adopt an ordinance setting a two-year term for the mayor, and holding the reorganization meeting every two years — after the two-year election cycle for the council. Mr. Powers voted against the measure, but then-Mayor Greg Puliti and council members Bob Bostock, Jim Kownacki and Pam Mount voted for it.
   Last week, Mr. Powers resurrected the issue and sought to introduce an ordinance that calls for Township Council to reorganize every year and choose a mayor. He acknowledged that it was anticipated that a two-year term would strengthen the mayor’s relationship with other governmental officials.
   But now, “with the benefit of hindsight,” it may be time to re-evaluate that decision for a two-year mayoral term, Mr. Powers said.
   Mayor Kownacki — the first Township Council member to hold a two-year term as mayor — said that he had not heard anything negative about the extended mayoral term from the county or state officials with whom he has interacted. He has served as mayor in 2012 and 2013.
   ”They felt it was the best thing Lawrence could have done,” Mayor Kownacki said.
   Mayor Kownacki said he believes the mayor “really” needs to have a two-year term. One year is not enough, because the person who holds the ceremonial post is just beginning to become known by county and state officials.
   ”I respectfully disagree,” Mr. Powers said.
   Ms. Lewis said she supports the two-year term, and pointed to her experience working in government. Consistency is important, she said, adding that one year does not allow enough time for a mayor to create and implement his or her vision for the town.
   Mr. Brame said that while custom, tradition and continuity have their place, the council-manager form of government under which Lawrence Township operates provides for Township Council to reorganize every two years and to choose a mayor at that time.
   ”We would be setting a bad precedent with such a meager history of performance,” Mr. Brame said, referring to Mr. Powers’ suggestion to revert to a one-year term for the mayor. He added that he reserved the right to reconsider the issue at a later time.
   When Mr. Powers suggested that allowing the mayor to serve a two-year term could morph into a strong-mayor form of government in which the mayor holds more than a ceremonial role, Mr. Brame dismissed it as a “leap too far.”
   Mayor Kownacki said that while the two-year term has “made the position stronger with (state and county officials),” he relied on Municipal Manager Richard Krawczun for guidance on policy issues. He said he would discuss issues with residents, but he would not respond to government officials without first consulting Mr. Krawczun.
   There is no presumption of a strong mayor under the council-manager form of government, Mr. Brame said. The Township Council is similar to a corporation’s board of directors and the municipal manager is similar to the chief executive officer, carrying out their wishes.