Mayor and Former Mayor Spar Over Charter Election

The West U City Council will be asking residents to vote on proposed changes to the city charter in November despite differing viewpoints from two West U mayors.

Former Mayor Bob Kelly, who has been opposed to one of the changes that would require the city secretary to report to the city manager, told the council Monday night that “there’s no reason to change the city charter” and “it’s unfair to Thelma to have a thumb over her.” Kelly was referring to City Secretary Thelma Lenz.

“You have the right to stop it right here,” he said. “You don’t have to kick the can down the road. If you’re not in favor of it you can stop it right here. If you put this to the voters its implied that you’re for it.”

“That’s a good opinion, but it’s not my opinion,” Mayor Bob Fry responded.

After hearing comments from residents and discussion by council Monday night, the city attorney was directed to prepare ballot language for the charter recommendations. Council is expected to vote on the prepared ballot language at their next meeting, Aug. 26.

Council appointed nine residents to serve on the Charter Review Commission last year. The city is required to review its charter every six years. The commission presented their proposed changes to council last November, but the council delayed moving forward with the changes at the time. The council recently made finalizing the city charter amendments and preparing for the November 2013 election one of their goals for 2013-2015.

“We’ve delayed long enough on this,” Fry said Monday night. “I’m perfectly comfortable putting this to the voters. Our obligation tonight is to decide whether we want to support that committee and put these in a referendum to the voters.”

Mayor Pro Tem Susan Sample made some comments about the recommendations, which Fry said he wished she would have mentioned to the commission prior to Monday’s council meeting.

One of the proposed changes to the charter is to increase the number of signatures required on initiative and referendum petitions from three percent to five percent of the qualified voters of the city.

Sample said that there may be 10,000 registered voters in the city, but only 900 people voted in the May election. Five percent of the total number of registered voters is 500, more than half of the actual number of people who came out to vote in May.

Sample said that 500, compared to 300 signatures, is “insurmountable” and doesn’t want to “put that on the voters.”

In regards to requiring the city secretary to report to the city manager, Sample said that if they change the charter they would probably have to change ordinance language.

An ordinance has been in place since 2008 that requires the city secretary to report to the city manager. The ordinance references current charter language that would need to be changed, she said.

An ordinance is more “nimble” to work with than a charter that is reviewed every six years, she said.

Sample also questioned the recommendation to change the reference of “Commissioners” to “Council Members” in the charter because if they were originally called commissioners before the charter was enacted then they’re not changing anything and “it should be off the table completely,” she said.

Councilman Dick Yehle made a motion to call a charter election for Nov. 5, 2013 to include the recommendations from the Charter Review Committee as appropriately amended.

“We’re moving this forward as the recommendations of the Charter Review Committee,” Fry said.

Council unanimously approved Yehle’s motion to call the charter election, with the exception of Councilwoman Joan Johnson who is on vacation.