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Charter commission finalizes five proposed changes

The charter commission appointed by Mayor Ann Thane earlier this year met yesterday to finalize their proposals for changes to the city’s charter. According to Chairman Peter Califano, the proposals will be proofread by the members and submitted to the Montgomery County Board of Elections on Wednesday, just two days before the deadline to have them appear on this November’s ballot. Califano also said that he will schedule a public hearing within two weeks to answer questions about the proposed changes. City residents will be able to vote on the proposals in this November’s election.

The first proposal would increase the separation of the executive and legislative branches of the city by removing the mayor as the presiding officer of the legislature and allowing the mayor to appoint his or her own deputy mayor. Currently the mayor chairs common council meetings and the common council chooses the deputy mayor. The proposal doesn’t specify a salary for the deputy mayor position.

The second proposal would establish two additional “at large” common council positions, increasing the number of council members from five to seven. These two new positions would be elected by the entire city, not just one ward. The other five positions would still be elected by their respective wards as they always have.

The third and fourth proposals contain numerous changes to details in the charter that according to Califano, do not add or take away any powers of either branch, but rather clarifies sections of the charter that have been disputed. Califano said the commission used Judge Joseph Sise’s decision earlier in the year that the common council could not compel the mayor to sign a city contract if she did not want to sign it or designate someone other than the mayor to sign it either.

The current charter reads that the common council has the power “to award all public contracts subject to applicable law.” The proposed change reads that the council has the power to “award all contracts that are subject to competitive bidding requirements under federal or state laws or regulations.”

The current charter also reads that the mayor has the power to

On approval by the Common Council, to negotiate and grant leases, concessions, licenses and permits for use of City property and appurtenances and to execute deeds and enter into contracts on behalf of the City as authorized by the Common Council.

The proposed change replaces this section with several paragraphs, including

To execute all deeds, leases, licenses, easements, contracts, collective bargaining agreements and any other document that memorializes an official action of the City except as otherwise authorized in this charter. The Mayor shall negotiate the terms and conditions of any such document.

And

Execution of a collective bargaining agreement or employment contract for a position not created specifically in this charter- must be approved by resolution of the Common Council. The requirement for this approval shall not be construed to authorize the Common Council to compel the Mayor to execute such document.

The fifth proposal sets a minimum funding level for both the controller’s and mayor’s budget lines. According to Califano, the controller’s budget is 3.5% of the total expenditures in the city budget. The budget lines that the mayor has oversight over, including the Employee Relations Department, Administrative Assistant, Corporation Counsel, shared services, and all custodial, building and grounds items add up to 4.5% of the total budget. The commission proposes to prohibit the common council from reducing funding for either offices below the current percentage rate unless either the controller or mayor agreed to the reduction in their respective departments.

Califano said a number of ideas were not finalized either because there was a not a clear consensus or because of lack of time to properly study the issue. Changes that were previously discussed in regards to the City Clerk’s office, the Department of Public Works, and term limits on the mayor and council members will not appear on the ballot. Califano said these issues could be discussed by future commissions. According to Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis, the commission is constituted until election day in November, after which the mayor would have to re-appoint the commission.

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About Tim Becker

Tim Becker is the owner of AnthemWebsites.com LLC which publishes The Compass. He serves as both editor and a writer.

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