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Small Town Mayor Hopes To Be His City's Last, Calls For Hiring A City Manager

The elected mayor of Lone Tree is proposing eliminating his position, in favor of hiring a professional city manager. The city council would then appoint one of their own members to sit as mayor, albeit with scaled-back responsibilities.

The mayor of a small city in eastern Iowa wants to do away with his own position as it exists now. The elected leader of Lone Tree wants the community to hire a city manager, and let the council choose a mayor.

A little over a year into his first term as mayor, Jon Green says he wants to be Lone Tree’s last mayor. In a letter to city council members Monday he asked them to consider changing the city's system of governance to eliminate an elected mayor and transition to a strong city manager system. 

"I urge you as fellow public servants to recognize with me sometimes our best service can be to invest in a professional to guide Lone Tree into the future," Green wrote. 

Green says the city needs a full-time advocate to keep it sustainable in the long-term, and can no longer rely on part-time officials like himself, juggling his own full-time job and cashing in on paid-time off to try to keep up with city business.

"I'm very fortunate to have a supportive and flexible employer, so I've been able to do some things other working people cannot," Green wrote. "I've come to the conclusion that even with me devoting an awful lot of time and personal resources to the office, Lone Tree will be better served by someone who can devote 40 hours a week to the job."

The community of about 1,500 in far southeast Johnson County boasts three local parks and a new wellness center, and is an easy enough drive to Iowa City, Muscatine, Riverside and Washington. But the city is home to an aging population, and has struggled to attract and retain local businesses.  Six months ago it lost its sole grocery store, LT's Fine Grocery

Green says considerable investments are needed to attract more residents and to continue to hold on to the city’s K-12 school, which he calls "the soul" of the community.

He’s proposing Lone Tree set aside $150,000 a year, (in salary, benefits and discretionary expenses), for a professional city manager, who would take on much of the executive responsibilities that now belong to the elected mayor. The city council would choose one of its own members to hold the scaled-back positon of mayor. 

Raising the capital for the position would likely entail a property tax increase, Green says, and he acknowledges it could be a tough political lift. According to the city clerk, Lone Tree currently employes three full-time and three part-time staff members, and saw total expenditures of about $1.8 million this fiscal year. 

But as a part-time mayor, Green says important opportunities and tasks are passing by: county and regional coordinating meetings are unattended, and potential grant funding left on the table.

Just over halfway through his two-year term, Green says he sees the proposal as an investment in the city's future that will far outlast his own tenure and "leave the place better than I found it."

Green will present his plan at an upcoming city council meeting on May 6th.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter