Saturday, June 03, 2006

Council Considers Charter Changes For Nov. Ballot

By Phyllis Schaltenbrand

Tuesday night the City Council held a special work session to consider the recommendations of the special Council Charter Review Committee. The Committee was composed of Chairperson Rory Riddler, Councilmen Joe Koester, and Bob Kneemiller. Councilwoman Dottie Greer served as an alternate member of the committee. The committee reviewed their proposed changes to the City Charter, which if approved by the full Council after two readings, would most likely appear on the November ballot for voter approval.

The first recommendation dealt with staggering the terms of Council members so that all ten wards would not be up for reelection at the same time. The recommendation of the committee was to have those council members representing wards 1 thru 5 serve one four-year term upon their election in April 2007. Ward 6 thru 10 would continue to serve a three-year term. Then in April of 2011 those Council members who had been elected for the four-year term, their seats would revert to a three year-term. Council members Joe Koester and Dottie Greer voiced some skepticism on the need for this proposed change. Councilman Koester specifically saying, “It might help big money outside groups to more easily target Council races.” Councilman Riddler pointed out that the influence of big money in Council elections had proved to be a determent to those who spent so much in the recent recall attempt of Ms. Greer.

While the committee made no recommendation on the issue to submitting to the voter’s reconsideration of the major changes to the charter scheduled to take effect in April 2007, they did refer the matter to this work session for discussion. The Mayor stated that while she was not taking a position for or against resubmitting this issue to the voters that she felt asking them to vote on it again would be in some way insulting to them. Councilman Riddler pointed out that under those changes who ever is elected mayor in 2007 would have the authority to fire, not only department heads, but any city employee. “The ability of the Mayor to be able to fire rank and file employees would in fact turn our community into a patronage system, where every employee would have to owe their political allegiance to the Mayor or feel that their job was at risk. There is a difference in the quality of employees that work under a professional administrator and those that work in a political environment.”

Council President Bob Kneemiller stated that he was not in support of resubmitting this issue to the voters. Councilman Koester and Brown pointed out that voters primarily felt they were voting on the issue of having a full time Mayor. “They did not know that they were voting to get rid of the position of City Administrator, said Councilman Mark Brown.

A great deal of discussion centered on proposed changes to the charter section dealing with recalls. The Mayor launched the discussion by proposing that there be an up or down vote on whether voters want the power of recall or not. The City Attorney is looking into the question of whether or not the specific changes and amendments to the section on recall could be on the same ballot as the Mayor’s proposed vote to eliminate that section on the Charter altogether.

It was unclear from the discussion, which ensued if the Mayors proposal enjoyed a majority of support from the Council, or not. Councilman Hoepfner and Councilwoman Greer both said that voters might want to retain that right. Councilwoman Greer in particular noted that voters in her ward were more concerned with the abuse of the power of recall than it’s elimination.

Charter review committee Chair Riddler had proposed several specific changes to be considered by the full Council. These included specifying that recall be used only for malfeasance in office, that someone who survived a recall vote would not be subject to recall for a period of 12 months thereafter, that petitions circulated would have to include a statement of the grounds for recall, that initiative and recall petitions would have to be filed within six months of the formation of the petitioners committee, and that only registered voters of the County of St. Charles may circulate petitions for initiative, referendum or recall, and election for recall could only be on a April, August or November ballot.

Malfeasance is defined as wrongdoing, especially by an elected official. Committee Chair Rory Riddler said, “It’s easier to know what it is other than what it isn’t. I know it isn’t a couple of neighbors not wanting a cell tower in the neighborhood like the issue which was used to bring about the recall attempt of Councilwoman Greer.

A minor proposed change was to specify that any person authorized by law to administer oaths might swear Council members into office. Councilmen Joe Koester and Bob Hoepfner both pointed out that this had become an issue with some persons in the community when St. Charles Circuit Judge William Lohmar had been asked as a personal friend of some members, to swear in some Council members following the past election. Supporters of the Mayor had often said in the press, this was a “slight” to the Mayor who had sworn members in three years earlier. However, prior to this administration the City Clerk most often swore in Council members.

The committee proposed that any changes or regulations promulgated by the City Administrator to the administrative code of the City have to be approved by ordinance. The administrative code deals with the plan of organization and structure of City government. The original administrative code was adopted by the Council per the Charter, but the City Administrator is free to make changes without Council approval at the current time. In a section dealing with the Parks and Recreation Board some Park Board members had asked it be made more clear that funds derived from the Metropolitan Park and Recreation District as grant revenue sharing funds be under their sole direction. There had been some concern at the administration had been insisting on City approval for the transfer of these funds to parks. Advocates of “Proposition P,” previously passed by voters, had pointed out the intent was to give the Park Board as much autonomy in the spending of funds for park purposes as possible.

Another section dealing with the Park Board would require the Mayor to bring forward a nomination for appointment to the Council within 60 days of a vacancy or 30 days of the expiration of a current Park Board member’s term, the reappointment for a new member for appointment. And that should the Mayor’s proposed appointment be turned down by the City Council, the Mayor would be required to bring forward a new nominee within 45 days. The reason this was considered important is the Charter currently states that a member whose term has expired continues to serve until their replacement is appointed and confirmed.

Park Board member Thomas Smith had previously been up for reappointment but the Mayor withdrew his name prior to the Council voting on his potential reappointment. It was believed at the time she did so to avoid having his nomination rejected by the Council. However she has not brought forward his name or any other name for his seat for over a year thus leaving him a voting member of the Park Board passed the expiration of his term. It was felt important that this loophole not continue to be used in the future. (See related story regarding Thomas Smith in this issue and on our archives on the web,, issue of May 13, 2006 – Money Laundering or Smart Politics – The people have a right to know.)

The duties of the purchasing agent would be expanded if another of the committee’s recommendations were approved. This proposal would have the purchasing agent also administer the securing of services required by any department or office. The purchasing agent currently oversees the purchases of supplies and equipment and only acts to assist departments on services when requested to do so.

The Council will also consider requiring that the City budget be in a form the Council would authorize by ordinance. Previously Council members have had issues with the format and confusing nature of the annual budget documents.

One minor house cleaning measure would simply reflect that we currently operate under a five-year capitol improvement plan while the existing charter language only specifies a three-year plan.

A proposal to increase the number of signatures required by Candidates for Mayor, Municipal Judge and Council Members was deemed to be unnecessary by a majority of members at the planning meeting and was withdrawn from consideration.

The issue will go before the full Council in bill form along with the other items discussed at the work session. It is most likely that the bills will be introduced at the second Council meeting in June and approved to go on the ballot at the first meeting in August.