Major city charter changes recommended

By Joe Lambe

The charter review commission on Monday voted to recommend electing all city council members from within smaller districts and that the city go to a stronger mayor form of government.

Those large changes and a host of minor ones will go later to the city council, which will decide whether to put them to a public vote.

The commissioners voted 10-2 for the controversial change to 12 in-district council seats. Three members of the majority said they questioned the change but favored citywide public debate.

“You don’t have to support it to say it needs more public debate,” said Matt Dameron, commission co-chair.

Some minority groups argued that the change would allow more minority representation and increase voter turnout. Commissioners Steve Glorioso and Bobby Hernandez also argued that it would reduce the power of money by reducing the size of council districts.

Commissioner Stacy Daniels Young said several comparable cites have gone to all district council seats “and armagedon hasn’t come to them.”

Commissioners Jim Rice and Tim Kristl, who voted against the change, argued that it would lead to more balkanization in an aready divided city.

Commissioner Rodney Knott voted for it to further debate but said he saw no evidence it would solve problems like voter apathy and “we’ll have a more fractured city.”

Other cities with the system probably don’t have the severe divisions caused by segregation, he said. “Is this going to solve that – I don’t think so, I think it will make it worse.”

To have 12 council members elected in new districts is a vast change from the current system of 13 councilmembers, which includes the mayor, six members elected from geographic districts and six members who live in districts but are elected citywide.

Under the 12 in-district system, voters would vote for their one councilperson and for the mayor. Under the old system, they got to vote for seven council members and the mayor.

Commissioners voted 10-1 on going to a stronger mayor government in which the mayor alone would have the power to fire the city manager. Nine council members could also fire the manager without the mayor’s consent, as it is now.

The mayor would also submit his candidate to hire as city manager for city council approval, as it is now.

Dameron said the current system of having the city manager deal with demands by all 13 council members made no sense.

“It’s a wonder to me the city functions as well as it does,” he said.

The original proposal was to give the mayor the power to both hire and fire the city manager, but Mayor Sly James suggested the less severe approach Monday.

It made it more palatable and probably more likely to pass the city council and get to a vote, Dameron said. “I came out strong for strong mayor and I’ll come out even stronger for muddled mayor.”

But they decided not to consider another James’ suggestion to increase term limits from two terms to three terms for his office and the city council.

They voted 10-0 for another James suggestion that adds charter wording the mayor wanted related to his education efforts.

As head of the city, it says, “the Mayor may do all things reasonably necessary or desirable to support other types of governmental entities, including but not limited to county, educational, library, and economic development institutions …”

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