City Council's Service Committee told the Charter Review

By Wendy Sufrin Record-Courier staff writer Published:

City Council's Service Committee told the Charter Review Commission Monday it should not expect to see all of its recommendations placed on the ballot for voters to consider during the November general election.

Under current city law, council acts as a gatekeeper between the commission and city voters, accepting what recommendations it likes, altering others and discarding the rest.

The committee, made up of the council, last night eliminated several items from those that would have been addressed by council as possible ballot items.

"We obviously aren't going to put 15 items on the ballot," Councilman Jerome Pavlick said as commission members shook their heads and sighed.

"If you put too many of them on, none of them will have a chance because I'm not going to stand there and do all of it," Councilman Steve Kolar added.

In the end, there may not be much for city residents to decide.

Killed at committee level was a proposal that the mayor's position be full time, compensated at 100 to 110 percent of the city's highest paid department head.

"It's something that's needed, but it's something we can't afford. We just can't pay for it," Kolar said, explaining that the city's tax base simply can't support $40,000 to $60,000 for a full time mayor _ and if it could, he'd add more safety personnel before approving funds for a full-time chief executive.

When commission member Mike Dunlap urged the committee not to act as a roadblock but to let the voters decide, Kolar said the average citizen has no idea what the city can and can't afford.

Also killed at committee level was a recommendation that the pledge of allegiance and prayer or moment of silence be eliminated as required openings of all city council meetings.

While insisting that it is not against prayer or the pledge, commission members reasoned that an organization like the American Civil Liberties Union might challenge the charter provision on the grounds of separation of church and state.

Council could retain its own rules, which include the prayer and pledge, both of which could still be said. However, should there be an attack by the ACLU or other group or citizen, it is easier to change council rules than it is to change the city's most basic guiding document, commission chairman Carl Lipcsik said.

Saying that he doesn't believe in a division of church and state, Kolar praised the commission for its sound logic, but said he'd rather "go against logic and stand behind the flag and God Himself than succumb."

"They just voted not to uphold the Constitution of the United States," whispered commission secretary Janice Cannon from her seat in the audience.

The committee will ask council to alter the commission's recommendation that ward councilmen satisfy a three-year residency requirement in the wards they hope to represent and that they live in those wards throughout their term.

Although the commission intended to ensure that ward residents would be represented by people who were familiar with the area, Kolar and Councilwoman Barb Fredmonsky said the more stringent rules could frighten off the few people now willing to run for council.

City council will vote on whether voters see a commission recommendation that legislation containing emergency clauses must specifically state what the emergency is "in clear and specific terms." Council would have to vote on all other legislation three times _ conceivably during a three-month period if no special council meetings are called _ before the items could receive final approval.

Interim Law Director Al Schrader cautioned the committee that the reason given for inserting an emergency clause on a given piece of legislation would have to be legal.

Tempers began to grow short during a discussion regarding the council president's ability to take advantage of a mayor's absence to change policy or override administrative decisions. The city charter, which now allows the council president to assume the chief executive's power should the mayor be absent or otherwise vacant from office, would be changed to read "incapacity and vacancy."

With the committee showing every sign of killing the third of five proposals, and a promise of more to come, Lipcsik strode to the podium.

"I resent what you are doing right now. We asked for input from department heads. We asked for input from council. Only one councilman came to any of our meetings and that was the council president," he said.

The committee, which had worked from February to mid-July to formulate its proposals, may have had less work to do if it had known what council's response would be, Lipcsik said.

With tempers flaring at 11:30 p.m., attorney George Cochran, special council to the commission, suggested the remaining 11 items be addressed at a later date.

Those items, and the rest of the service committee's regular agenda items, will be addressed at a special service committee meeting set for 7 p.m. Thursday.

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