Our Opinion: Proposed charter change corrects oversight

News Tribune editorial

We are, by nature, wary of proposed changes to Jefferson City’s Charter.

A municipal charter — like state and federal constitutions — is a framework for governing.

As such, it is not a collection of administrative codes, executive orders or legislative statutes, subject to constant additions, repeals and revisions.

A revision proposed recently, however, is sensible. It would correct an error — in the section on primary elections — likely caused by an oversight.

When the charter was adopted by city voters in 1986, Article VIII, Section 8.2 (b) read: “A primary election shall be held if there are two or more candidates for nomination to a city office from the same political party.”

The reference to “political party” became obsolete in 2002 when city voters approved non-partisan elections for city offices and amended the charter accordingly.

The revised language reads: “A primary election shall be held if there are two or more candidates for nomination to the same city office. If during a primary election one candidate gets a majority of all votes cast for that office, then that candidate shall be declared the winner of the office without a General (runoff ) election. If no candidate receives a majority of all votes cast then the two candidates receiving the highest vote totals in the primary election shall compete in the General (runoff ) election.”

The obvious oversight is the failure to change the number of candidates from two to three.

With the previous party system, the party’s nominee is selected in a February municipal primary to advance to the August general election.

In the existing non-partisan system, a primary — if necessary — is designed to winnow a field of three or more candidates to the two who will advance to the general election.

Now that the error has been revealed, City Attorney Nathan Nickolaus believes he is compelled to comply with the charter provision until it is changed by a vote of the people, planned to be held in April 2012.

The errant language will be followed in the February primary. Unless additional candidates file before the Nov. 22 deadline, the error will affect only one council race — in the 1st Ward, where two candidates have filed.

Whenever amendments to charters or constitutions are proposed, we recommend scrutiny to disclose any hidden agendas.

In this case, we find the proposed revision to be a simple correction of errant language.

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