City council receptive to some charter changes

Members of the charter review commission on Thursday presented some of their recommended changes – the least controversial ones – to the city council.

Next week they will present the two major and divisive recommendations, which are changing the council to 12 in-district seats and switching to a stronger mayor form of government.

The council must decide which recommended changes, and any others of its own, to approve for a public vote.

On Thursday, commissioners started with something everyone seems to favor: changing city election dates from a February primary and March general election to an April primary and June election.

People have long wanted to shift the election dates but changes in state law have now made it possible.

One problem with the current dates is that they are only 28 days apart, said commission member Steve Glorioso.

“Some people would say it’s madness…,” he said, because the close primary gives candidates no time to raise money or effectively campaign before the general election.

It also disenfranchises people like service members or others who live elsewhere and do not have time to receive and send in absentee ballots for the general election, he said.

The later dates – when school districts, cities and counties are holding elections – would also save the city many thousands of dollars because it could split the cost of the elections.

City Attorney Bill Geary said elections at a time other than the dead of winter will likely lead to more people voting.

Councilman John Sharp said, “I’ve always thought it was crazy to have a primary election in February maybe right in the middle of a blizzard.”

Also working politically in favor of the election date change: It would give six councilmembers about three more months to serve on their current terms.

Related to anther recommended change, City Manager Troy Schulte explained why he had asked that all departments be removed from the charter language except for departments of law, finance, parks and human resources. Other departments would exist by ordinances and could be more easily changed if needs changed, he said.

Another recommended change would allow the mayor and council members to serve on boards or subdivisions of public organizations. The current charter says they must forfeit office if they do.

They could not hold another elective office under the change but could serve on boards of other groups, Geary said.

Councilman Russ Johnson noted that the charter provision forbidding that was because of abuses in the days of the Tom Pendergast machine.

Geary told the council what he told the commission, “Tom Pendergast is dead.”

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