Mayor wants fourth charter amendment to be put before voters
November 30, 2005 - Crestwood Charter Commission members have proposed three amendments to the City Charter. Mayor Roy Robinson wants a fourth to be placed before voters.
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Charter Commission Chairman Jim Brasfield, a former mayor and longtime Ward 1 alderman, last week presented to the Board of Aldermen three proposed amendments to the charter, including removing term limits for members of the Board of Aldermen and adding a censure provision for elected officials. A third amendment included several changes to the City Charter that commission members considered minor, unofficially referring to them as "housekeeping" items, plus a provision to reduce the number of signatures needed for initiative and referendum petitions and recall elections.
Robinson told Brasfield at the Nov. 22 board meeting that he be-lieved the provision to reduce the number of signatures needed for initiative and referendum petitions and recall elections should be placed before voters as a separate amendment because he considered the proposal a "major change.''
The commission recommended reducing the number of signatures required for initiative and referendum petitions from 12 percent to 8 percent of registered voters and re-ducing the percentage of signatures needed for a recall of the mayor or an alderman from 20 percent to 15 percent of voters registered to vote at the last municipal election.
Brasfield told Robinson that he would "poll'' commission members regarding the mayor's request, speak to City Attorney Rob Golterman and report back to Robinson.
The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously to receive the Charter Commission's report and begin processing it with the goal of placing the proposals before voters in April. Aldermen also instructed Robinson, on behalf of the board, to send a letter to Charter Commission members thanking them for their service.
The Charter Commission voted June 21 to propose the three amendments to the charter and originally planned to present the proposed changes to the Board of Aldermen July 12. The presentation was rescheduled for the board's July 26 meeting, but later was canceled after a question was raised about whether the mayor could break a tie vote to adopt an ordinance. That issue was discussed Nov. 15 by the commission, which voted to include clarifying language in its proposed charter changes.
The Charter Commission, which began meeting in mid-February, had up to 12 months to complete its work and submit any proposed amendments it deems necessary to the Board of Aldermen.
"The Board of Aldermen shall by ordinance submit such proposed amendments to the voters at the next general election,'' the charter states.
The next general election is April 4. Voters would have to approve the amendments for the changes to be effective.
Besides the amendment that includes items identified by commission members as "housekeeping,'' the other amendments approved by the panel were:
• To eliminate term limits for members of the Board of Aldermen. Under the current charter, aldermen are limited to serving three consecutive three-year terms, not in-cluding time served to complete an expired term. As proposed, the term-limit provision for the mayoral post would remain unchanged.
• To add a censure provision for elected officials to the City Charter as an alternative to dismissal from office as a penalty for violations of charter provisions.
After Brasfield presented his report on the commission's work to Robinson and the Board of Aldermen last week, the mayor said, "As I previously spoke with Mr. Brasfield just before this meeting, I do have — I have a problem with lumping the referendum and initiative into housecleaning or housekeeping. I think that's, that is a definite change into the charter and is not the same mindset as housekeeping, trying to clarify something. This is a definite change and I think it should be put on a separate entity so that the people are clear — they know exactly what they're voting for because when I read the ordinance that was prepared and the language on the first proposition, I would have a hard time knowing what I was voting for by referring to just numbers.
"And one thing we want to make sure (is) that when we put something on the ballot that the people understand exactly what they're voting for. I don't want anybody saying: 'You're trying to pull one on us.' So I don't know what procedure you'll have to do to separate that ... but I think it ought to be done ...,'' he added.
Ward 3 Alderman Don Maddox later questioned Bras-field about the proposed amendment that would add censure to the charter.
"... The prohibitions that are specified by the charter are very specific and essentially, there's only two prohibitions that apply to aldermen and either apply to the mayor. And those prohibitions are specifically named. One of them, of course, is holding some another office, and I believe if I recall right, the other one that applies to the mayor is simply discrimination and a point in dealing with personnel. Those are the only prohibitions I can find, and I wonder what you were thinking — what the commission was thinking about when it was thinking about prohibitions,'' Maddox said.
Brasfield said, "Well, I think the commission didn't be-lieve that we were prophetic enough to know whatever situation might arise, but we did think that there could be actions that would be taken by a member of the board or the mayor that might be deemed by the board to be a violation of the charter, and therefore calling for or creating provisions under which there might be a desire to say to that individual: 'We don't want to throw you out of office, but we want to say that we are displeased or, not just displeased, but we are seriously concerned about this particular behavior.'
"And again, the U.S. Congress has this and it's rarely used, and we think this would be rarely used, but we thought there might be situations that would be short of wanting to remove someone from office, but still that the board would want to express their negative judgment about that kind of behavior. And that's why we put it in. We recognize that there was some controversy about that and that's why we put it as a separate provision for the voters to vote on ...,'' he added.
Ward 3 Alderman Jerry Miguel later asked about the commission's recommendations for clarifying language about the mayor's authority to break a tie vote to adopt an ordinance.
"Again, for clarification, we're making it clear that the mayor has the ability to break a tie in the case of an ordinance,'' Miguel said.
Brasfield replied, "Correct.''
Miguel continued, "Now where do things stand on issues other than ordinances?''
Brasfield said, "On ordinary motions — it was clear, the city attorney thought it was clear, the commission thought it was clear — that the mayor has the right to break a tie on an ordinary motion ... It's clear that on an ordinary motion, the mayor has the right to break a tie. The area that the commission did not act on that was brought up and discussed, had to do with breaking a tie on appointments and it would appear that both the language and the original intention was not to authorize the mayor on that, and the commission did not recommend anything different than that in that area.''
Miguel asked, "So the mayor does not have the authority to break a tie in what situations?''
"Appointments,'' Brasfield said, citing the charter, which states: "The mayor with the advice and consent of a majority of the Board of Aldermen present, shall appoint all members of committees, boards and commissions."
Brasfield continued, "We did not act to change that. We're not trying to interpret this. We're simply saying we weren't acting to change that provision.''
Robinson later said, "But I think all previous mayors have done that. So I think history proved the mayor in all occasions where there was a tie at some point has broken the tie. So I don't think there's ever been any question up to this point about appointments because normally those are by acclamation anyway.''
"... I can't say I remember breaking a tie (on an appointment), but I probably would have done it if I thought — I wouldn't have thought this was a prohibition ...,'' Bras-field said, noting the commission did not make a recommendation.
Miguel asked if the issue should be clarified and Robinson said, "Maybe it should. Maybe it should be put on the ballot. Let the people decide whether the mayor can break a tie over appointments ... I'd be willing to let the people make that choice and then there wouldn't be any question about it and it would be part of the charter.''
Brasfield did not respond as Miguel began asking questions about other recommendations made by the commission.
Robinson later reiterated to Brasfield that the provision to reduce the number of signatures needed for initiative and referendum petitions and recall elections should be a separate amendment.
"... I think the people need to have a separate thing on the ballot on the initiative and referendum,'' he said. "That's the people's mechanism and even though it reduces the numbers, they ought to be the one that decides that without putting it into the housekeeping ... I don't expect you to have a full meeting or something, but at least have the city attorney draft a new item for the ballot that will be inclusive so that the people understand what they're voting on. To me, when I read that one on the (housekeeping), there's a lot of numbers there and people do not know — I'd have to go back and get the charter out to figure out what in the heck is going on ...
"That's a major change. So I'm asking you to go back and — or get with the city attorney and draft up an ordinance for that ...,'' he added.
Brasfield said he was hesitant to speak for the commission, but would poll members for their thoughts about Robinson's request and then respond to the mayor.
Robinson later said, "... I know that these things have to go forward, but I think we all must understand that I have to sign off on that ordinance, and I'm just saying I would not sign off on an ordinance I thought was not clarified to the people. So it needs more clarity. It has to have more clarity.''