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At least one of the proposed amendments should be rejected.

Last year a member of council resigned.  In the table below you can see how many council meetings Ward 5 residents went without representation under the 1983 version of the City Charter.  The table also identifies who was responsible for Council Member attendance / appointment at each of the missed meetings.
 
Responsible party Council Meetings without Representation Total
Council Member Nov 9, 2015/ Nov 23, 2015/ Dec 14, 2015/
Dec 31, 2015/ Jan 11, 2016/ Jan 25, 2016

 
6
Council Feb 8, 2016/ Feb 22 2016
 
2
Mayor   0
 
 
The table above identifies a need for change in the city charter but not the ones recommended by the Charter Commission.  At the time of the Ward 5 resignation the City Charter required a council member to have 3 consecutive unexcused absences from regularly scheduled Council Meetings in order to be removed from council for non-performance of duties.  That has not and will not change through any of the proposed charter amendments. 
 
At the time the Ward 5 representative resigned on Jan 25, 2016 she had just one unexcused absence.  This means two more meetings would have had to been missed before council could even start the process of removal.  Of course, removal would have to take place before the process for appointment would start.  If making sure residents do not have to go without representation the question you should be asking yourself is: Why didn’t the commission patch up the attendance portion of the charter?
 
The solution the Charter Commission put in place in order to make sure residents did not go too long without representation was to adjust the time the mayor had to make an appointment.  As you can see from the chart above this would not have decreased the actual number of council meetings Ward 5 went without representation.  But it likely would have increased the number of future meetings missed by the eventual Ward appointment.
 
As you may recall, I let council know I would not appoint any of the original applicants for the Ward 5 position unless the two political factions stopped playing political games.  If at that time the City Charter had an eight-day time limit, I would have likely appointed one of two people I was considering.   I did not appoint the first because she was out of the area tending to a family health issue.  As you might imagine, it was not the best time to ask if she wanted to serve her community.  The other person is a nurse who worked second shift, was very interested in serving, but knew it would be at least few months and maybe a year before that schedule could be adjusted.  As you may recall Ms. Byrge’s interest had not be called to my attention within 8 days.  If push came to shove, with an 8-day time limit, I would have either taken the chance that when the health issue resolved itself my friend would be willing to do the work or I would have appointed the nurse.   I do not think either of these two options were as good a choice as appointing someone who was as qualified, willing and able as Ms. Byrge was at the time.  I certainly thought my working relationship with Ms. Bryge would be better given her qualifications, resume’ and interview, but that does not change the fact that of the three choices I was considering 20 days into the process, this was the right choice. 
 
You can see from the table that if the objective was to reduce the potential for residents to be unrepresented at council meetings the Charter Committee did not even address the major issue.  A proposed change should have been made to address a council member that does not show up for meetings.  Of course, the reason this Charter Committee missed the mark on this section was because  both factions of council get so fixated on trying to keep me from making independent decisions they are unable to recognized real issues that need attention. 
 
We see that same problem taking form in another detrimental charter amendment.  In Section 13.08 Removal of Official, there is a new section being proposed for paragraph (C).  The addition reads, “(4) Violation of any expressed provision of the Charter;”.  This may sound like a reasonable addition but it has some serious flaws that are not present in the current way council and citizens have to make sure the charter is followed. 
 
Currently, if there is a real charter violation it is a relatively easy and quick process for resolution.   Mandamus is a judge’s order that commands a public official to do their duty.  This is the tool council has now to enforce violations of the City Charter.  This is a better choice than this amendment.  It would take a competent lawyer less than four hours to file and the courts normally schedule them quickly.
 
Instead of using the tool they have now, the proposal is to give six members of council the ability to invalidate election results.  If approved by the voters, any band of six council members could continually vote to remove any member that does not go along with their click.  It makes sense for citizens to give council the right to remove another council member if they are; convicted of a felony, fail to show up for work or move out of town.   Which “expressed provision of the Charter” is so important that it should invalidate an election result?  Any section that falls into this category should be expressly stated as is done in the current charter where it tells us Section 4.06 is that important. 
 
If you are at all familiar with the political maneuvering and posturing that has occurred over the last year, you would know this particular addition was added because of the way the Ward 5 resignation and appointment occurred.  At that time, you had one faction of council offer their own legal interpretation that I was violating the City Charter because my definition of “as soon thereafter as possible” was different than theirs.  Their problem though was the main proponent of this opinion knew he was wrong and knew he was only saying it for political gain.   If he was really concerned about Ward 5 having representation and believed it was a violation of the City Charter, he would have filed a mandamus motion.   That motion was never filed.   Still, today you have members of council trying to make political hay by implying there is a need to correct members of council that violate the charter every day.   There is no member of council violating the charter at all, much less every day.  If there were council would file a mandamus motion and the violations would stop, or the judge would issue contempt of court order and the person would be in jail.   
 
The dangerous part of the discussion on this amendment can be found in examining a statement, that we can all agree with, that was made during the last work session.  We are all “looking for accountability with everybody and we shouldn’t be knowingly breaking the charter in a malicious way and then think, well there is nothing we can do about it…”. First of all, there is something council could do about it, if it were a problem.  Secondly, this statement was purposely made to falsely give the impression that City Charter violations are occurring and the statement was made for political gain.  Under the current system, a judge is not likely to be fooled by this political posturing.  But if you get a click of six council members willing to make statements like this in order to paint a false impression on another council member, under the proposed amendment they might be tempted to take it to the next step of invalidating election results and removing the independent voice from council.   

 

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