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Mayor proposes power shift

The mayor will ask members of the City Council tonight to consider giving some of their authority to the city's department heads.

Mayor Michael Cox said Monday that he is proposing the charter amendment, because the current arrangement allows politics to get in the way of city business.

But lest some people accuse the mayor of a power grab, Cox said he won't be around for any changes. Cox said he won't seek another term as mayor next spring, and he hinted he might seek a seat on the County Commission in two years.

The city charter now dictates that the mayor and each council member be named "commissioner" for a different city department: police, fire, public works, parks. A commissioner is supposed to oversee his or her department.

But Cox said political squabbling means a commissioner sometimes oversteps that role, and "I don't think that's a healthy environment politically."

Cox, 28, who served four years on the council before winning the mayor's race last year, said in a news release Monday that "the time has come to start to move the city toward professional management."

Cox said stripping the council of commission powers and increasing the authority of the department heads would constitute a transition toward a city manager. Cox said a lack of transition doomed two previous attempts to institute a city manager in the city.

Cox continues to maintain his opposition to a full-time hired city manager. He says the city is too small to support one. Cox said a stronger mayor or stronger city clerk might provide the direction to department heads under the new system.

Cox said he's making the suggestion now, because the City Council would have to approve a referendum in time for the municipal elections in April. A majority of voters must approve a binding referendum to change the city charter.

Cox said his car repair business is getting too busy to allow him another term as mayor. However, Cox, who describes himself as an active Democrat, said he still is interested in running for higher office at the county or state level.