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Council rejects resolutions

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Charter Review Committee to make recommendations

By Carol A. Clark

Angry audience members muttering disparaging remarks under their breath and a councilor breaking into tears added to the drama of a four-hour public meeting Saturday.

The emotionally charged meeting held in council chambers was called for the sole purpose of deciding resolutions 10-02 and 10-03 proposing additions to the County Charter and a mail out ballot election.

The problem councilors faced was that the petition calling for the additions and election was deemed illegal as presented.

County Attorney Mary McInerny explained to councilors that what was being proposed in the first amendment contained five separate issues. Even if councilors gave it the benefit of the doubt, McInerny said it contains two and not one issue as required and that makes it illegal.  

“In the normal course you would just accept these, set the election and let the voters decide whether to add these sections or not. Some will argue that is your non-discretionary duty,” McInerny said. “However as the governing body, your duty extends beyond the individual petitioners to the larger body of over 12,000 registered voters. Those voters have a right to be presented with a question posed by each petition that they can tell you their clear choice.  They have a right not to be presented with questions that include many different subjects and therefore are not able to ‘fully and accurately express their will.’ You have the right to hear their voice in a way that allows you to govern effectively.”

McInerny also explained it is illegal by the Supreme Court to send to the voters questions of zoning. The second petition raises similar questions, she said, citing clauses from cases similar in nature.

Councilor Robert Gibson said the County Charter is subordinate to state law and that the council had no choice but to deny the motions. He called the citizens’ efforts to change the charter justified but “not well executed.”

More than 2,000 residents signed the petition that brought the issue before council. It was designed to have citizens vote on many county capital projects and land transfers.

The key driver in making the questions to be presented to voters illegal was log rolling a number of subjects into one question.

Council Chair Michael Wismer sympathized with the petitioners saying the backdrop behind their efforts was the substantial tax hike they received in November from passage of a school bond last year.

“The council was sympathetic to the message by our citizens about increased taxes and

spending, but our intent was to not piecemeal elements of the charter but to have the entire charter reviewed within the framework of the charge council has given the Charter Review Committee,” Wismer said.

Charter Review Committee Chairman John Hopkins addressed the council saying, “We are committed to doing a transparent, open, thorough review of the charter. The recommendations we make to you some months in the future are going to be the best we can do.”

The council voted 5-2 not to adopt either resolution, voting rather to have the issues referred to the Charter Review Committee. Councilors Vincent Chiravelle and Nona Bowman voted to adopt the resolutions and allow the voters to decide.

Bowman became quite emotional during her comments. She suggested adopting the resolutions and the election and then letting the attorney general decide the legalities.