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CRC recommendations raise additional issues

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By Arin McKenna

Two other Charter Review Committee (CRC) suggestions also warranted considerable discussion at Tuesday’s council meeting: whether council should have a say in removing at will employees and whether partisan makeup of boards and commissions should be specified.

The CRC recommended that the county manager be allowed to dismiss at will employees without council approval.

“This reflects our observation that if the manager wants to remove a department head, and the council didn’t approve that, it could put the manager in an untenable position,” CRC member Kyle Wheeler explained.

“We felt that if there is a problem with any department head, it was pretty hard for us to imagine a county manager that hasn’t discussed that thoroughly with the council before removing that person. So we didn’t feel that council has to impose itself on that level of personnel decisions.”

Council disagreed with the logic.

“In a perfect world, you could not image a manager terminating an employee without talking to council,” councilor Mike Wismer said. “But, unfortunately, it has happened in the past. So I think adding the language to suspend and remove is important.”

“I think, even with the best intentions, people make rash decisions. And when you have to go socialize that with somebody else, I think it leads to a better decision,” Vice Chair Ron Selvage observed.

When County Administrator Harry Burgess was asked for his opinion, he said that council had always been the ultimate check wherever he had worked, and that having that backing was beneficial.

Council approved clarifying language for the article (303.2), but chose to keep its oversight role in the removal of at will employees. The amended article passed 7-0.

Wismer made a motion to eliminate language in article 305.3 that allows no more than a simple majority of standing boards or commission members to be of the same political party.

“They should not be mandated by any party affiliation, rather by their desire to volunteer and be a part of the board or commission,” Wismer said. “We asked the boards and commissions chairs to weigh in on this, and the majority of them thought that this provision should go away. I have personally been involved with boards and commissions where we’ve had to turn qualified candidates away because they were the wrong political party.”

Wheeler explained the CRC’s reasoning. “We felt that the boards and commissions are sort of a training ground for running for elected office later, and that it insures the diversity of the boards.”

Council opposed Wismer’s motion by a 5-2 vote, with only Councilor Vincent Chiravalle, who seconded the motion, also in favor.

“That can be a way to pack boards and commissions,” councilor Geoff Rodgers said. “The requirement to limit it to no more than a simple majority is actually a check and balance on the power wielded by a simple majority on this council. “

“I agree it could be used to stack boards with one party. It could actually be used to exclude people rather than open it up,” Selvage said.

The current language regarding the partisan makeup of boards and commissions was approved 5-2, with Wismer and Chiravalle opposed.