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Former charter commissioners show mixed views on new committee

Former charter commissioners show mixed views on new committee

January 21st, 2018 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

After almost 32 years, the Jefferson City Charter will go through an official review — which is receiving mixed reactions from those who created the charter.

Jefferson City voters approved the charter in 1986 after approving a 13-member charter commission to create it the prior year.

The Jefferson City Council last week approved the seven-member Jefferson City Charter Review Advisory Committee to analyze the city charter and propose possible changes.

Ward 3 Councilman Ken Hussey told the News Tribune the committee's review would be more efficient than if the council were to continuously propose individual amendments to the charter. The committee would recommend multiple changes at once, he said.

Proposing charter amendments is not uncommon, as there have been 15 voter-approved amendments to the city charter since its adoption, according to city documents.

Commissioner Ed Rackers said he thinks the city charter was a "living document" that could be amended as the city's conditions change or new developments occur.

Commission secretary Carolyn McDowell, though, said the council does not need an advisory committee to amend the charter since it went through a thorough process.

The commission met every Monday for 50 weeks, reviewed examples of city charters and heard public comments. The Missouri Committee on Legislative Research and two Missouri Supreme Court justices analyzed the charter before it went to a public vote.

"Most people who come in here and are new to the community, new to city staff, they don't realize how thorough this charter is," McDowell said, flipping through her own copy of the city charter. "It doesn't have to be changed every time we change council or every time we get a new counselor or every time we get a new mayor or whomever it is."

According to the city charter, the council can create new departments, boards and commissions; but if they propose changes to the charter, those recommendations must be approved by voters.

The committee will have until July 9 to make recommendations so the City Council can decide whether to put the proposed changes on the November ballot. If the committee needs more time, the last day it can propose recommendations is Sept. 24 for the April 2019 ballot.

While McDowell said she does not think the charter should be amended, Rackers and Clyde Lear, former commission chairman, said they were not against a committee reviewing the document.

Rackers and Lear said they could not think of necessary changes to the city charter. McDowell said one thing the committee could look at is whether to place the city counselor under the oversight of the mayor and specifically the city administrator. The mayor and City Council currently oversee the city counselor.

McDowell added she hopes the committee will point out areas where the city is not complying with the charter, such as using the formal names of city positions. For example, she said, city staff should use the term "fiscal officer" instead of "finance director" since it is written in the charter that way.

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Since the charter is more than 30 years old, Lear said, there most likely are changes that could be made.

"Does it need to be amended? Probably," he said. "Are there changes that could be made to improve the city's government? Yes, I think that overwhelmingly. I've been watching it all these years, and yeah, they may need to make some changes. I'm sure there could be improvements in our city government, but it's not for me to make that decision today — it's someone else's job now."

If the advisory committee does not recommend changes or the council gives its final approval to place the committee's recommendations on the ballot, the committee will be terminated.

While there is not a best-practice timeframe to review the city charter, Missouri Municipal League Deputy Director Richard Sheets said, most cities try to review their charters every five to 10 years.

Several city charters include mandatory reviews after a certain length of time, he added.

Some residents already have expressed interest in joining the committee, Hussey said. Those wanting to join can fill out the volunteer form for city boards, committees and commissions in person at City Hall, 320 E. McCarty St. or at www.jeffersoncitymo.gov/meetings_and_agendas/citizen_boards_commissions_and_committees.php.

The 1985 commissioners had various backgrounds, including law, engineering and government. The commissioners said the different backgrounds helped them create the charter because it took into account different views and values, and they hope the new advisory committee will have diverse backgrounds.

Prior to the charter, Jefferson City was a third-class city government, meaning it was a statutory city that had at least 3,000 residents. A statutory city is governed solely by state law, while a charter city is governed by both its charter and state law.

In 1969, Jefferson City voters created a commission to create a city charter, but it failed overwhelmingly at the election a year later. Lear said this was because the charter commission at that time proposed too many drastic changes.

When the 1985 commission worked on the charter, it did not propose dramatic changes, Lear and Rackers said.

"We recommended what we thought was necessary at the time to cautiously move from the form of city government we had (third-class city government) to the charter form," Rackers said. "We didn't want to make too drastic of changes, which we thought would jeopardize it passing."

Rackers said the new advisory committee should remember that when proposing changes to the charter.

Jefferson City residents will vote April 3 on whether to amend the city charter to terminate the firemen's pension board, as administration of the Firefighter's Pension Plan was transferred to the Missouri LAGERS.

At its Jan. 2 meeting, the City Council placed a charter amendment proposing making the city prosecutor an appointed position instead of an elected one on the informal calendar.

The council also placed on the informal calendar a charter amendment proposing City Council members' term limits be four consecutive terms instead of absolute eight-year limits, as well as require a 23-month service break before a member can serve on the council again.

Items on the informal calendar die if the council does not take action on them after three meetings. Ward 3 Councilman and bill sponsor Ken Hussey said earlier this month if the council created the advisory committee, he would let the charter amendments die on the informal calendar.

Have a question about this article? Have something to add? Send an email to reporter Nicole Roberts at nicole@newstribune.com.