The novel coronavirus claimed an unlikely victim on Tuesday: Commissioners scuttled a year’s worth of recommendations by the city’s Charter Review Board, citing finances and complexities related to re-opening the city.
Most city facilities have been closed since mid-March due to COVID-19.
The nixed charter changes addressed term limits, forfeiture of office and obsolete charter language.
“I don’t think it would be responsible for us as a city government to invest more time and money in this charter review process,” said Commissioner Paul Rolli, who suggested placing charter revisions on the 2022 ballot instead. “That is why I recommended it be postponed.”
Rolli and Commissioner Gary Resnick voted against the charter revisions. Commissioner Julie Carson and Vice Mayor Tom Green voted in favor. Because the city has been operating without a mayor since the Feb. 25 death of Justin Flippen, a 3-1 voted is required for a measure to pass.
The failed vote made it impossible to get the proposed charter changes on the Nov. 3 ballot because ballot items have to be submitted to the Supervisor of Elections by June 8. Rolli said the city will take it up at another time in the future. But Charter Review Board members were skeptical.
“It’s going to be shelved. There is an expression, ‘If you want to see something die, send it to a committee.’ This commission has talked a lot over the years about term limits, but when given the opportunity, they did nothing,” said Charter Review Board Chair Michael Rajner. “They just wanted to kill the thing.”
Rajner said the 5-member volunteer board held 11 meetings, met monthly with the city manager to follow up and prepare the agenda, and participated in a wide range of outreach activities to educate the public over the past year. He submitted a final 222-page report on the advisory board’s findings, which included public comments. The endeavor cost the city nearly $27,000 in legal fees.
“COVID-19 became a convenient excuse,” Rajner said. “Regardless of what happened, government continues.”
Green said he was shocked by the “no” vote.
“I’m afraid it’s going to amount to nothing for political reasons,” Green said.
Charter Review Board member Doug Blevins said the Commission’s actions were disappointing.
“We don’t know what the future is going to bring. We are delaying something that has already been worked on diligently by appointees,” said Blevins, who also serves as vice-chair of the Wilton Drive Improvement District. “I’m disappointed but I understand they have to make some difficult decisions. Who is to say we are not going to be under these virtual meetings for another year.”
Commissioner Julie Carson expected the proposals for term limits and language cleanup to pass with flying colors.
“I was completely stunned, I was blindsided. I really thought this report was perfectly laid out in a way that made it easy for the Commission to determine what the high points were. And then to have Commissioners Rolli and Resnick not give it the credence it deserved.”
Resnick said it would cost the city about $3,000 per charter change to place the items on the ballot. He said the city would also not have time to educate voters on what each proposed change would address.
“This is not an appropriate time for us to be spending a lot of time on this,” Resnick said during Tuesday’s meeting. He said the city should focus on the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic because none of the proposed charter changes are pressing.
“I’m not going to support putting any of these questions on the ballot at this time. And it’s not political,” Resnick said.