August 19, 2008

Controversial charter issue will be on the Nov. 4 ballot

For the first time, a charter change that city councilors rejected is going to wind up on the ballot anyway.
After the city clerk certified this week that supporters of a proposal to create a chief operating officer at City Hall who would handle administrative oversight of the municipal bureaucracy had collected enough valid signatures, the only question is when the public vote will take place.
It appears, though, that city councilors next week will agree to put the controversial measure on the November 4 general election ballot.
“It’s time to put it to bed,” said Councilor Mike Rimcoski, an opponent of the idea. He said the public vote is likely to be close.
City Clerk Therese Pac certified that 3,661 of the more than 4,300 signatures submitted last month were valid, nearly 500 more than supporters of the proposal had to collect in order to force the referendum.
“I’m very happy. Ecstatic. Jumping for joy,” said former Republican mayoral contender Ken Johnson, one of the leaders of the effort to overturn the council’s rejection of the Charter Revision Commission’s unanimous recommendation to create the post.
Had the council favored the suggestion, it would have reached the ballot without the need for a petition drive.
But because councilors gunned it down in a 5-2 vote in June, supporters had to gather certified signatures from at least 10 percent of the city’s registered voters in order to get the measure on the ballot.
The council has scheduled a tentative meeting for 5 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 27 in order to pick a date to hold the referendum.
But since a majority of the council said Tuesday they prefer to put it on the November ballot, it doesn’t appear that alternatives will be seriously considered. They could wait as long as the 2009 general election to hold the vote.
Mayor Art Ward, who opposed the plan, said there is no reason to “belabor the issue” by delaying the public vote.
“The most people are out in a general election,” he said, particularly in a presidential year.
Ward said he is “not really surprised” that supporters got the signatures they needed because people sign petitions for lots of reasons. Not all of them actually back the proposed change, he said.
In any case, Ward said, he anticipates there will be an intense campaign between now and November as both sides try to sway the electorate.
The winners will be the ones who do best in getting their message out to the voters, Ward said.
Critics say the position will wind up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, intrude on the mayor’s ability to lead the city and contribute little to greater efficiency in government.
Supporters argue that a chief operating officer will find ways to streamline the bureaucracy and deliver services cheaper, easily justifying the added expense of the new position.
“I believe it will pass,” Johnson said. “It’s the right move at the right time.”
“We’re not the little town of Bristol anymore. It’s time for professional oversight,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that Pac and her staff, along with the registrars’ office, deserve credit “for tackling a really monumental task” in checking over all of the signatures gathered thi summer.
“It was an enormous undertaking,” Johnson said, and it was handled professionally.

More information:
Councilors who want the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot include Ward, Frank Nicastro, Rimcoski, Ken Cockayne andCraig Minor. For all I know, Kevin McCauley and Cliff Block also back it. I couldn't talk to everyone today.
I'll add some links below that go into more detail about the proposal, which will obviously absorb a great deal of attention in the weeks ahead as well.

Here are the draft Charter Revision Commission reports, which I believe were never changed:

Draft report - Final report of the Charter Revision Commission

Draft report - Citing major changes eyed by the commission

Draft Report - Showing entire charter with changes indicated throughout

Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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