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Committee votes to keep city prosecutor elected position

Committee votes to keep city prosecutor elected position

May 17th, 2018 by Nicole Roberts in Local News

The Jefferson City Charter Review Advisory Committee will not recommend to the Jefferson City Council that the city prosecutor be an appointed position instead of an elected one.

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The committee has been meeting about twice a month, reviewing each section of the city charter, since the City Council established the committee in March. Proposed changes would go to the City Council for approval and, if approved, would be placed on an upcoming election ballot.

The committee has several changes it plans to recommend to the City Council but has opted out of at least one city staff proposed change — making the city prosecutor an appointed position instead of an elected one.

On two separate occasions over the last year, city staff recommended the city prosecutor be appointed. However, after more than an hour of debate and public comments, the committee voted Tuesday night to keep the position an elected office.

Some commissioners said they thought giving the City Council the option to select a private, outside attorney or rely on the city's Law Department to prosecute cases would be more efficient and save money.

Other commissioners, along with current and former city prosecutors and judges, said they were concerned about a lack of autonomy and increased corruption.

Cole County Judge Dan Green served as Jefferson City prosecutor for 14 years and said the prosecutor should be "accountable to the people," as many decisions regarding whether to charge someone is a discretionary policy decision.

He and other committee members noted having the City Council as the city prosecutor's boss could create issues.

"In the 14 years I did serve, there were times I had council members come to me and make suggestions that could be changed," he said. One example he noted was some council members at that time asked if he could prosecute more parking violations around the state Capitol to increase city revenue, but Green did not believe that would make Jefferson City "gracious hosts."

While he implemented some suggestions he thought were appropriate, Green added, there were some recommendations he did not pursue because he did not believe they were "right for the city" at the time.

Brian Stumpe is the current city prosecutor. He was not present at Tuesday's committee meeting.

While many proposed changes are technicalities — changing "city" to "City" and "councilmen" to "councilmembers" in the charter — there are recommended changes to the City Council members' term limits and the city clerk's residency.

The committee will recommend City Council members' term limits be four consecutive full terms instead of absolute eight-year limits and require a full two-year term service break before serving on the council again.

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This proposed charter amendment came to the City Council last year and earlier this year but at both times expired on the informal calendar due to inaction by the council.

The committee also approved a recommendation the city clerk not have to live in the city limits but instead comply with the same residency requirements as department directors.

The committee has until July 9 to make recommendations so the council can decide whether to place those proposed changes on the November ballot. If the committee needs more time, it has until Sept. 24 to make suggestions for the April 2019 ballot.

Chairman George Hartsfield said he is not sure if the committee will meet its July deadline.

"There's still some major issues to work on, but I would be optimistic that we may be able to meet July 9; but if not, we'll ask for a 30-day extension," he said, adding one issue the committee still needs to address is the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission's role.

If the council places the suggestions on the ballot, the committee will be terminated.