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A strong mayor isnt always a smart mayor

Whether you support Team 3 or want to boot them... no one can argue that city councilors can act outside the law.

Sometimes having a good idea is not good enough reason to pursue it. That's the message that seems lost on Mayor Neal Knight and his two allies on the five-member Cornelius City Council.

'Team 3' is facing a recall because it fired former City Manager Dave Waffle. But Knight and Co. may have even bigger problems, thanks to a pair of new ethics complaints. (See story on page 1A)

For those keeping score at home, that's four complaints filed in the six months that the Gang of Three has been in office.

The latest two complaints address several actions, but all follow the same theme as the previous ones: Mayor Knight comes up with an idea and tells someone on the city staff to make it happen.

Now, if Knight were mayor of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles or even Beaverton, that would be fine. All those cities have charters allowing a 'strong mayor' with powers to run the executive branches of those cities. These mayors, who are not part of the city councils, propose their own budgets, can hire and fire administrators, direct department heads to come up with reports and often have veto power over council actions.

Knight, it's clear, would enjoy such powers, which usually come with a six-figure salary (Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle pulls down $133,000 a year. Rahm Emanuel, in Chicago, gets $216,000).

The problem is that Knight is a volunteer mayor of a city, which like most its size, uses a council-manager form of government.

Under this system, designed to save smaller cities money and reduce the likelihood of corruption, the mayor has no real additional powers than the other councilors, whose job is to give the city manager direction and then hold him or her accountable for carrying it out.

That means that if Knight gets his ear bent by a resident who doesn't want her neighborhood included in the urban growth boundary expansion, he can't just order the city's planning director to draw a new map.

Rather, he has to bring the idea to the council, get two votes and direct the city manager to come back with a proposal that reflects their wishes. And then, they have to vote on it again.

And it means that if Knight knows someone he thinks would be a good fit for a vacant post on a city advisory panel, he can't just nominate her and then get his buddies to vote her in. Instead, she has to fill out the paperwork, like the rest of the applicants.

What's confusing about the two examples above is that Knight, who has two automatic votes on the council, could have got his way even had he played by the rules.

What's troubling about these two examples is they demonstrate a disregard for the city charter, which is the local equivalent of a constitution.

That charter was adopted by popular vote and Team 3 promised to abide by it when they took their oaths of office in January, 'solemnly swearing' to support the U.S. Constitution, the State Constitution and the city charter.

We realize that doing so may mean jumping through some parliamentary hoops and negotiating some bureaucratic red tape.

But it doesn't matter. Whether you support Team 3 or want to boot them out of office, you can't argue that city councilors should be allowed to violate the city charter - even when they have the votes to get their way.

We don't have a lot of litmus tests for elected officials. But following the law is one of them.