The Jefferson City Council unanimously directed city staff Monday night to draft new language for the city charter that would keep the city prosecutor an elected official instead of an appointed one but allow the council to remove the city prosecutor.
After months of discussions, the City Council held its first special meeting to discuss proposed city charter changes, made by the Jefferson City Charter Review Advisory Committee, which was created by the council earlier this year to review the charter and make recommendations.
The new language would keep the city prosecutor an elected official but would give the City Council authority to remove the prosecutor for just cause if the council had a four-fifths vote. Examples of "just cause" could include if the city prosecutor is convicted of a felony, lacks the qualifications of the office during his or her term, or neglects the office's duties.
The city charter committee originally recommended a selection committee — two members appointed by the Cole County Bar Association and one member appointed by the mayor — nominate someone to the city prosecutor position. That nomination would go to the City Council for approval, and if approved, the person would serve a four-year term until a successor is appointed.
The committee also recommended language that would allow the council to remove the city prosecutor from office for just cause if the council had a two-thirds vote.
The city charter committee had recommended keeping the city prosecutor an elected position but later reversed its recommendation. Committee member John Hequembourg told the council Monday a "driving force behind the suggested change" was alleged issues city staff is currently experiencing, but he added he did not want to voice those issues publicly.
City staff have alleged for nearly a year that City Prosecutor Brian Stumpe missed court dates without notice and cases were dismissed due to Stumpe not appearing in court, according to emails obtained by the News Tribune through a records request in August. Stumpe told the News Tribune previously there were not problems and city staff had not spoken to him about these alleged issues.
Stumpe was not present at Monday's meeting.
"I don't think it's good policy to make significant changes like this based on one issue or personality," Ward 4 Councilman Ron Fitzwater said. "We need to make decisions whether there is a change. This was precipitated due to a personality issue I think the way this got started was not the way I would want to start another change."
Committee member Mark Kaiser said another reason the committee voted to recommend the city prosecutor be an appointed position is because several other cities have appointed city prosecutors.
In the end, Kaiser added, it came down to a simple question: Should the city prosecutor be accountable to the city or the people?
City charter committee member Carolyn McDowell was the sole individual to vote against making the city prosecutor an appointed position.
"The city prosecutor should be a face of the community, a face of the citizens," she said. "It's not by the people if you change this. Everything should be done by we the people."
Several council members said while they were against the city charter committee's recommendation to make the position an appointed one, they agreed there should be some removal process that is consistent with the removal process of the mayor and council members.
The council also approved Ward 2 Councilman Rick Mihalevich's motion to direct city staff to draft consistent residency language for the city clerk, city administrator and city counselor, who all work directly for the City Council.
The city charter committee recommended removing the city charter requirement that the city clerk reside within the city limits. This would give the council more flexibility to set geographical residency requirements, or none at all, by ordinance, City Counselor Ryan Moehlman said.
Fitzwater said he was not in favor of removing the residency because council members could change the residency multiple times by ordinance.
The city clerk is the only office of the three that has a residency requirement outlined in the city charter, Moehlman said.
Earlier this month, five bills regarding city charter amendments expired due to council inaction after the bills were placed on the informal calendar.
One of those bills proposed limiting the mayor to two consecutive full terms instead of eight years and limiting the council members to four consecutive full terms instead of an absolute eight-year limit. Under the proposed amendment, a mayor who served his or her two consecutive full terms would have to wait a full four-year mayoral term before serving as mayor again. For council members, they would have to wait two years after completing their four consecutive full terms before serving on City Council again.
"You would not have a perpetual incumbent (because) it forces people to move off the council" and allow new people to hold office, "but it doesn't preclude a person who has previously served to serving again," Moehlman said Monday.
Another expired bill recommended a city official be prohibited from voting on contracts with other political groups or nonprofits if the city official sits on the governing body of the groups or nonprofits, unless they were serving on the group as a city official. The council will discuss this recommendation at a future meeting.
One bill also proposed council members, the mayor, city administrator, city clerk, department directors, and those serving on the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission not be publicly-elected members of a state political subdivision, the Missouri General Assembly, or hold a statewide elective office while serving in their city positions. The exception would be if they were serving in the public office in their capacity city officials. The council will discuss this recommendation at a future meeting.
Other proposed amendments are minor changes, like using gender-neutral terms and eliminating references to dates that are no longer effective, which were outlined in the fifth expired bill.
While not previously presented as a bill to the City Council, the city charter committee also recommended changes to the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission section of the city code. These recommendations were approved after the committee passed its original recommendations earlier this summer.
The council said Monday it will most likely discuss the changes to the parks commission section of the city code at its next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 26.
Once the City Council completes its special work sessions regarding the city charter, the proposed amendments — with the City Council's recommended changes — will go to the City Council for approval. If they approve the recommendations, Jefferson City residents will vote on the proposed amendments, potentially in April 2019.
Once the council decides whether to approve or reject the proposed changes, the charter committee will be terminated.