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Charter Commission discusses censure


April 27, 2005 - Crestwood Charter Review Commission members are discussing whether a censure provision for elected officials should be added to the City Charter.

Commission members also are discussing whether to clarify the voting procedure to remove elected officials from office and whether changes are needed to the number of signatures required for initiative and referendum pe-titions and recall petitions.

The city's Charter Review Commission began meeting in mid-February and met for the fifth time last week. Besides reviewing the City Charter section by section, members have identified several issues they believe need further discussion and public comment, including censure, initiative, referendum and recall petitions, and term limits.

The City Charter, approved by voters on Nov. 7, 1995, states, "From time to time, but not less than every 10 years, the mayor and Board of Aldermen shall provide for a Charter Review Committee to consider whether any amendments to this charter are appropriate.''

Under the charter, the commission has up to 12 months to complete its work and submit any proposed amendments it deems necessary to the Board of Aldermen. Voters would have to approve any charter changes. Commission members also could decide that no changes are needed.

Regarding censure, the issue first was raised after City Administrator Don Greer addressed the Charter Review Commis-sion last month.

While a provision of the charter prohibits elected officials from interfering with the city's administration, Greer pointed out that the charter provision provided no re-course if that section of the charter was violated.

"Except for the purpose of inquiries and investigations under Section 3.11 of this charter, the Board of Aldermen or its members shall deal with city officers and employees who are subject to the direction and supervision of the city administrator solely through the city administrator, and neither the Board of Aldermen nor its members shall give orders to any such officer or employee, either publicly or privately,'' the charter states.

Employees can be somewhat intimidated by an elected official, Greer said.

"It's not generally a problem. It is today and that's probably why I have focused on it. But one of the things I read when I was comparing some other charters is that there is some recourse in those. In ours, there is no recourse ...,'' Greer said.

During a discussion, it was noted that while the charter provides for forfeiture of office for elected officials, commission members seemed in agreement that a lesser punishment should be available.

During a further discussion of censure April 19, Chairman Jim Brasfield, a former mayor, raised issue of whether a su-permajority vote should be required to cen-sure an elected official.

Commission member Rich Bland said, "I'm looking at this and nothing in here re-quires a supermajority for forfeiture.''

Brasfield said, "No.''

Bland said, "So I kind of like the idea of offering censure as maybe a lesser (punishment). I don't know why we would want to go to a supermajority''

Brasfield said, "... I was thinking and I articulated it as a supermajority, but I guess I was also thinking that maybe there just needs to be clarification of what we're talking about. And in other words, the difference between a majority of the board, which would be five of eight, as opposed to a majority of those present and voting when a quorum is present ... You could have a quorum present and then you could have a majority of that quorum and would that be sufficient? I mean it's not sufficient to pass ordinances, but this isn't an ordinance. So maybe irrespective of whether we introduce censure, maybe we ought to look at and make sure there's clarification even for forfeiture of office.

"But in a sense, because censure is less Draconian, it may be more likely to be used and therefore the voting question may end up being more relevant because it may be more likely to use censure than we use forfeiture of office because that's a pretty huge step. So maybe we need to say that at the minimum, the standard for forfeiture or censure is the same as the standard for passing an ordinance,'' he said.

Another aspect, Brasfield said, that would tie forfeiture or censure to the same voting procedure as adopting an ordinance "would be that this couldn't be done in one legislative day. In other words, you couldn't come in (and) either censure someone or do a forfeiture of office in a single legislative day and the only reason that the board can pass ordinances in a single legislative day is by unanimous consent. And that's why if someone objects to the second reading, it has to be held over for a next time. So we may want to make sure that this is governed by the same kind of rules that you couldn't kind of slip one by or come in with kind of a last-minute thing without due consideration and public notice ...''

After further discussion, commission members agreed to consider using the same voting rules for censure and forfeiture that are used to adopt ordinance. To adopt an ordinance, at least five of eight aldermen must vote in favor of it and at least one week must elapse between introduction and final passage unless an immediate second reading is approved by unanimous vote of the Board of Aldermen, ac-cording to the charter.

Regarding the number of signatures needed for initiative, referendum and recall petitions, commission member David Brophy previously had raised the issue, contending the number of signatures required is excessive under the current charter in comparison to other governmental entities.

The panel revisited the issue last week and tentatively agreed to consider requiring initiative and referendum petitions to be signed by voters of the city equal in number to at least 6 percent — instead of 12 percent — of the total number of voters registered to vote at the last general mu-nicipal election.

Regarding recall petitions, the panel tentatively agreed to consider requiring such petitions to be signed by 12 percent — instead of 20 percent — of voters registered to vote citywide at the last general city election for a recall of the mayor and for the recall of an alderman 12 percent — instead of 20 percent — of the total number of voters registered to vote at the last general city election in that member's ward.

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