Though city councilors told the Charter Revision Commission to nix the idea of changing the city government’s blueprint to include a chief operating officer, the seven-member panel unanimously agreed Tuesday to push for the plan anyway.
The move opens the door for a referendum drive to begin after the City Council again rejects the city manager-lite concept put forth by the charter panel.
“This is a very important issue,” said Tim Furey, the attorney who heads the charter commission. He said that residents want the opportunity to vote on the suggested change.
The charter panel’s decision followed a 75-minute joint session with councilors that sharpened divisions and set the stage for a push to create the new slot aimed at bringing more efficiency and oversight to City Hall.
Opposition to the scheme focused on its expense and possible lack of support in the community.
City Councilor Mike Rimcoski said officials would be “creating a monster” if they backed the recommendation from the charter panel.
But the other GOP councilor, rookie Ken Cockayne, said it’s important to “let it go to the public and let ‘em vote on it.”
What happens next is that the charter panel will file a final report within a week, after which the council will take a formal vote on each of the commission’s recommendations. Any that are backed will automatically appear on the November 4 general election ballot.
Anything that’s gunned down by the council – as the chief operating officer is almost certain to be – are dead unless supporters can get 10 percent of the city’s registered voters to sign petitions calling for the suggestion to reach the ballot as well. That means about 3,100 signatures will be needed within 45 days of the council’s vote.
Led by city Councilors Craig Minor, a Democrat, and Cockayne, a bipartisan push to gather the required names will begin soon after the council vote.
Seizing on comments by Mayor Art Ward and rookie city Councilor Cliff Block that they’d like to see if there’s enough support to get the required signatures, charter commissioners said they want the council to order city lawyers to help draft the necessary paperwork properly.
Furey said he didn’t want the proposal to die “because someone didn’t dot an I or cross a T.”
Dale Clift, the city attorney, told the charter panel that it could not legally discuss asking the council for legal assistance because the matter wasn’t listed on its meeting agenda. He said discussing it violated open government laws.
But Furey said the request would be part of the panel’s final report and thus was allowable.
Though Clift warned that including it “may jeopardize your final report,” Furey and the commission agreed to make it a part of the document anyway.
Four times they brushed aside warnings by Clift to stop discussing the matter.
“I’m a little flummoxed by it,” Clift said.
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